TiMER (2009)

8 Sep

So if he doesn't make my TiMER go off, but he's really cute, is it wrong to make out with him?

From the concept of a single soulmate for every person to questioning the purpose of relationships that don’t last, “TiMER” is a little movie that takes on big questions and almost succeeds in answering them.

In the not-too-distant future, a company has perfected the TiMER, a device which, once implanted in the wrist of your dominant hand, will pinpoint the exact moment you meet your “One.” But the little devices seem to cause just as much trouble as they avoid. Oona’s (Emma Caulfield) TiMER remains frustratingly blank. Her step-sister Steph (Michelle Borth) must wait until she’s 43 to meet The One. Oona, who’s dated a string of TiMER-less men in hopes of finding The One, has started losing hope, and Steph is filling her years of waiting with meaningless flings. As each of them faces questions about the nature of love, they learn that not everything in life can be easily defined or quantified with technology and that sometimes the heart must simply learn its own lessons.

“TiMER” finds an utterly fresh premise for a romantic comedy. Its sci-fi slant brings a whole new angle into play, and the film does a lot of things right. Unfortunately, the central conceits don’t hold up well under scrutiny. There are all sorts of problems with the  TiMER concept itself, many of them simply just distracting questions: What happens if your soulmate dies? What about all those people who meet their soulmates at a young age but don’t reconnect until later in life? And the big one — Why can’t a person have more than one soulmate?

I realize some of these questions start getting into philosophical territory, but the movie itself is contradictory on some of these points. The nature of love and the meaning of “failed” relationships  are deep subjects and, because pretty much everyone has first-hand knowledge of them, it’s hard for the film to really sell its viewpoints. The movie presupposes you’ll buy into its definitions and assumptions without question. It does offer a few attempts at showing why the world has bought into the TiMER concept, but those also sidestep the obvious problem of people who, for whatever reason, have more than one soulmate.

The soulmate issue, unfortunately, obscures the other half of the discussion which centers on the purpose of “failed” relationships. The film really does an excellent job of showcasing the differences between lives lived without the pressures of the TiMER and those that have the device leading their every decision. The movie explores the ways in which every relationship — not just the Big Important Relationship — can enrich your life, often in ways you don’t appreciate until later.

Single use only. Heh. See what I did there?

Where “TiMER” is truly clever is in the tight writing from director Jac Schaeffer. What is truly impressive is its development of the two main characters: Oona and Steph. Far too many movies portray single women as man-obsessed neurotic messes, resorting to gorging themselves on chocolate or filling their closets with shoes to fill the hole in their life that only a knight in shining armor in a white BMW convertible can fill. Oona is driven to find TiMER-less men to date, and Steph is focused on instant gratification, but beyond those minor obsessions, the sisters are remarkably well-adjusted. They don’t stalk men, they don’t hatch crackpot plans to trap men, they don’t participate in gags involving body fluids, they don’t whine about men while eating cheesecake, and they don’t drop everything and go shopping when life gets them down. Instead, Oona and Steph do what most of us do: Deal. And they do it mostly through the strength of their relationship with each other. The depiction of how important each sister is to the other is a refreshingly honest, realistic portrayal of that often complex relationship. This film also manages to center its action around an older-woman-younger-man love affair without playing on the horrible and stupid cougar stereotype that’s rampant right now.

Caulfield is wonderful in the starring role. She displays a subtlety and a vulnerability that is simply perfect for this type of movie. She’s absolutely endearing and so free of the forced coquettishness or pseudo-sexiness so many rom-com leads seem to be favor. In fact, Caulfield comes off very much like a real living, breathing woman, and it’s just a lovely performance. She gets much help from her equally great supporting cast. Borth provides some necessary edge to this sweet film, but doesn’t veer into unlikable territory. Her frankness and brusque attitude provide some levity, and she sparkles as the not-as-nice sister. I also enjoyed Amedori in the male lead role. He’s sweetly adorable and manages some real, raw emotion in his weightier scenes.

This film came to my attention on recommendation from my friend Jen, who suggested it on a night when I was looking for something light and fun to watch. Her recommendation was right on. This is another romantic comedy that defies traditional expectations of what the genre is. Despite its story issues, this is first and foremost a smart and thought-provoking film which also manages to be thoroughly enjoyable. Two-and-a-half stars out of four.

“TiMER:” Rated R. Starring Emma Caulfield, Michelle Borth, John Patrick Amedori, Desmond Harrington and JoBeth Williams. Written and directed by Jac Schaeffer. Cinematography by Harris Charalambous. Original music by Andrew Kaiser.


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