The first question everyone asks after they've seen a time travel film is, "Why didn't the hero pop forward to next week and jot down the winning lottery numbers?" So it's a gratifying moment in The Time Traveller's Wife when the hero does exactly that. It's also a sign of how human the film's characters are. Henry (Eric Bana) isn't an alien with a time machine, nor does he belong to a government squad of crisis-averting chrono-cops. He's just a Chicago librarian with a "genetic anomaly", apparently akin to epilepsy, which keeps yanking him into the near future or past for short periods before depositing him back in his own timestream. Completely out of his control, this condition is more of an inconvenience than anything else, especially as he leaves his clothes behind in a heap whenever he skips through the fourth dimension.
It's almost as inconvenient for his wife, Clare (Rachel McAdams). As much as she appreciates the lottery win, Clare has all the irritations of anyone whose husband has a long-term illness, and a job that takes him away from home just when she's put the dinner on. There are deeper concerns, too. Clare always knew she would marry Henry, because he visited her when she was a little girl and told her, so where does that leave free will?
Adapted from Audrey Niffenegger's best-selling Richard & Judy fave, The Time Traveller's Wife is a science fiction film without the science fiction. It doesn't get bogged down in the whys and wherefores of time travel, but it has fun with the inherent paradoxes and ironies, while the common-room philosophising isn't given any more prominence than the issue of how to find clothes when you appear naked in the street in the middle of the night. It's light and playful enough that when it becomes a full-on weepie about the brevity of life and the length of memory, it's earnt the right to do so.
The film was co-produced by Brad Pitt, who starred in a similar, chronologically wonky tragic romance earlier this year, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button. In comparison, The Time Traveller's Wife is a grungy, low-budget episode of The Twilight Zone, but it's also a more thought- provoking and less bloated version of the scenario. By rights, it should go back in time and collect all the awards and nominations that went to Benjamin Button.