Before watching the movie:
It occurs to me that “Time travel romance” is rather an oddball genre. I can think of two or three other examples (Assuming The Lake House counts), but it still seems more common than it ought to be, though less than it could be.
This movie somehow reminds me of Time After Time, even though the premise is almost entirely opposite. This is a modern person going back in time for love, the other is about a Victorian coming to the present and finding love accidentally.
Oddly, my conception of Christopher Reeve’s acting style is less from Superman and more from Noises Off! There may be more Superman, but I’ve seen Noises Off! more frequently.
After watching the movie:
Playwright Richard Collier had a curious experience at the wrap party for a play he wrote in college. A strange elderly woman appeared, gave him a pocketwatch, and told him to “come back to me”. Eight years later, this bizarre occurrence is little more than a memory, but he kept the watch. Getting over a breakup and burnt out on writing his latest play, he takes a break at an out-of-town hotel. There, he is entranced by a photograph of a beautiful woman hanging in the hotel’s history museum. Obsessed, he researches her and finds that she was Elise McKenna, an actress who performed in the hotel once in 1912, and he recognizes the last photo of her before she died as the woman who gave him the watch. He decides he must meet her in 1912, and learns that time travel is possible through convincing himself it is the time he wants to be in. However, once there (or rather, once then) he must not only get her to reciprocate his love, but also navigate around her manager, who has her career to think of.
It’s an easy trap to fall into to portray love at first sight disturbingly, especially when it’s one-sided. Even allowing for that, so much of this story simply could not have been made now. In 1980, Richard falls in love with a photograph to the point of derailing his life and demanding everyone around him accommodate his wishes. In 1912, his confidence that they fall in love is supposed to justify his insistence to speak to her even though she’s explicitly not interested in talking to him. And then she only warms up to him because he happens to be a bit charming while he’s refusing to let no mean no. A few hours later, once he’s broken through all her barriers, their happiness together is palpable, but again, it’s only been a few hours. The better part of a day. They’ve moved from supremely creepy to supremely unrealistic. I really want to like their relationship once it’s gotten going, but it’s covered in so much unhealthiness, I can’t.
Sweeping aside those story issues aside (with a bulldozer), everything else is quite lovely. Seymour, Plummer, and especially Reeve do great work with the material they have to work with. I may not like what the characters are doing, but they do it very movingly. I especially liked the subplot with Richard making an impression on the young boy he knows is going to grow up into the old bellhop who recognized him when he checked in, and how it’s portrayed.
The production values are far from extravagant, and it had a very modest budget, but the film did exactly what was needed with it. The Grand Hotel of 1910 sets a convincing backdrop and is content to remain a backdrop. The time travel is portrayed with simple crossfades when seen from the inside and lens effects when seen from the outside, and communicates the concept simply without lavishing it with time or money. It’s content to let the story and performance take center stage, and one of those completely deserves it.
I want to like this movie. Everything other than the plot is great, and even the plot itself doesn’t need much improvement. It’s just unfortunate that the improvement it needs blares klaxons at me through the entire runtime.