It’s not often that we see the romantic-comedy formula set in a science-fiction universe. The following two independent films try to show us that these two genres can in fact work pretty well together.
Director Brad Anderson (‘The Machinist‘, ‘Session 9’) melds the feel-good quirkiness of the rom-com with the tangled elaborateness of science fiction for a pleasantly entertaining film about relationships, damaged people and the little coincidences that bring a couple together. Anderson takes a somewhat detached and unremarkable approach to his own script, which allows the narrative to unfold on its own with a casual pace. We’re not in any rush to know if Vincent D’Onofrio’s Sam Deed is telling the truth about being a man from the future, even though his cockamamie story sounds like a clear sign of lunacy. Granted, the question plays a central role to the plot and is a part of the amusement. D’Onofrio’s performance definitely keeps us guessing along with the rest of the cast. He experiences things as if for the first time, talks about the future in elaborate detail, and has an irrational fear of dogs. But this is only part of a deeper layer.
Although lacking a bit of focus and consistency in a few spots, this quaint little yarn is actually told from the point of view Marisa Tomei’s Ruby, a lonely-hearts romantic with a co-dependency problem. We find out very early on that men with serious personal issues seem to gravitate towards her like a magnet. When she meets the timidly shy Sam, Ruby is attracted to the out-of-towner’s weirdly eccentric behavior. But a drawing of a mysterious woman with the name Chrystie Delancey written all over it give rise to doubts, and hearing his story of being a “back traveler” makes her feel as if she’s stuck in yet another relationship where she has to fix a man.
Is this simply one of Sam’s many oddities? Is he delusional? Does he suffer from a form of frontal lobe epilepsy, as Ruby’s therapist (Holland Taylor) suggests? Figuring it out is part of the film’s quirkiness. We experience the frustrating dilemma from Ruby’s point of view, until the final moments when everything comes together like unexpected happy accidents.
Best remembered as the often-inappropriate vengeance demon in ‘Buffy the Vampire Slayer’, Emma Caulfield distances herself from the TV series by playing a plain-spoken, awkward orthodontist in ‘TiMER’. As one boyfriend puts it, she’s “kind of like a dentist.” A case could be made that she wields her frustration and retribution by inflicting pain in a patient’s teeth. So, maybe the two characters aren’t all that different…
Yet Caulfield does cute and bubbly with a terrific charm that makes this otherwise forgettable rom-com watchable. She also makes the archetype of a hopelessly romantic woman in desperate search of her Prince Charming bearable. This becomes crucial when tasked with sitting through 90 minutes of clichés and hackneyed plot devices.
Jac Schaeffer makes her writing and directorial debut with this sci-fi comedy that imagines an alternate Los Angeles where a timer implanted into one’s wrist counts down to the moment when a person is expected to meet his or her soul mate. The best parts of the plot involve seeing how science and technology have altered society’s perception of love, an abstract emotion normally considered outside our concrete, physical understanding. People without the wristwatches are viewed as bumpkins, while those with the fancy gizmos are seen as true believers in love.
Frankly, the idea of knowing such a thing sounds incredibly unromantic, nerve-wracking and barely human. Schaeffer doesn’t delve too far into some of the philosophical, cultural ramifications of her original concept. Instead, she opts for a simple yarn about Oona’s (Caulfield) quest to fall in love. She has her heroine, on occasion, question her dependence on technology, but the character ultimately feels more assured of its success once the predictable conclusion comes around. ‘TiMER’ works as a typical rom-com with a quirky sci-fi twist, but nothing more.