Review by C.J. Bunce
If you don’t include fantasy films, it’s not easy to come up with many pure science fiction genre romantic comedies. Fantasy genre romantic comedies are plentiful, with great movies like Princess Bride, Splash, Enchanted, and Ella Enchanted fitting the bill. There are also some good science fiction romances out there, the best being Somewhere in Time and Time After Time, and even more science fiction with some major romance elements, like Paycheck, Gattaca, Blade Runner, Logan’s Run, The Island, Star Trek: The Motion Picture, and The Empire Strikes Back. But you need to dig deeper to find a romantic comedy that is also full-fledged science fiction–a film focused on a future technology, time travel, time loops, parallel worlds–there’s not a lot of overlap there. Groundhog Day comes to mind as both a science fiction romantic comedy and a fantasy romantic comedy. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, with its future technology of allowing a couple in a doomed relationship to erase their memories, would fall squarely into the science fiction romantic comedy realm, although definitely it’s the darker side of romantic comedy. Each of the Back to the Future movies have enough romantic comedy as an element but are not generally thought of as romantic comedies. Spaceballs is a science fiction comedy with a romantic thread that parallels Han and Leia in The Empire Strikes Back. Ghostbusters is also a sci-fi comedy with a romantic thread and maybe even Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home qualifies.
Maybe there are fewer science fiction romantic comedies because Hollywood thinks it needs to market science fiction to men and romantic comedies to women, so a science fiction genre romantic comedy is unlikely to be a financial success. But to find a solid romantic comedy science fiction flick, you’re left with the equal part fantasy Groundhog Day and the dark Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. Until you happen to stumble across the 2009 film TiMER. You might never hear about TiMER unless you track independent movies in film festivals, which never get to the point of having previews in theaters or in television. Or you see that it is available for streaming on Netflix.
If you try to find fresh, new movies you’ve never heard of before on Netflix more often than not you get what used to fill video stores–B movies or worse that have either a slick title, a reasonably good movie poster or one actor that tricks you into giving the film a a try. TiMER could have been one of those but it’s not. The winner of several film festival awards it is a low budget movie with a good story, snappy dialogue and a genre star as the protagonist: Emma Caulfield, who played Anya on Buffy the Vampire Slayer and has her own graphic novel, Contropussy. a web comic about the affairs and exploits of a counter-culture cat.
TiMER is a company that has developed a device that successfully predicts when a person will meet his or her soulmate, thereafter eliminating the need for dating for those who buy into it. In the current-day world of TiMER the movie, that’s pretty much everyone. The technology is simple in concept–you’re first eligible to get a TiMER implant on your wrist in ninth grade. The TiMER has a countdown clock that begins only if your soulmate also has a TiMER. Otherwise it shows zero. Might there be other loves out there other than your soulmate? Sure, but the movie argues that most people would rather hold out for their single true love.
Emma Caulfield plays Oona. Her TiMER still hasn’t begun counting down yet, despite the fact she is 30, meaning her soulmate doesn’t have a TiMER. Oona lives with step-sister Steph, played by Michelle Borth (Supernatural, Hawaii Five-O), whose TiMER says she won’t find her true love until she is 43. Steph takes this to mean not that she should plan out her life for when she meets her soulmate, but instead date every guy she meets and pile up the one night stands. Their brother has his TiMER ceremony, a private home ceremony like a bris but with just a stamp on the arm. His TiMER says he will meet his match in 3 days, sending Oona off to try Steph’s world out by having a one night fling with the local supermarket checker/drummer Mikey, played by a young actor that looks a bit like Jeremy Sisto, John Patrick Amedori (Unbreakable, The Butterfly Effect, House, M.D., Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, The Last Stand). Mikey’s TiMER says he will meet his match in four months. The comedy comes in large part from the angst conveyed by Oona and Steph as they face life not wanting to be single. JoBeth Williams (Poltergeist, Dexter, From the Earth to the Moon) plays their mother/step-mother.
Writer/director Jac Schaeffer approaches the science fiction element and romance from different angles, fully hitting on the pluses and minuses of destiny and fate and serendipity. The relationships between the sisters and the men in their lives is smartly handled, yet the best relationship is between Oona and Steph. Both actresses are excellent, making you want to search out more work they’ve done. The ending will have you thinking about this one long after the film is over. It’s presentation of science fiction themes is up there with Butterfly Effect, Logan’s Run, and Gattaca.
A great date movie, TiMER is available on streaming Netflix and on DVD/Blu-ray at Amazon.com.