Director: Jac Schaeffer
Cast: Emma Caulfield, John Patrick Amedori, Michelle Borth
Run Time: 1 hour 39 minutes
MPAA Rating: R
Since Valentine's Day is coming up, why not toss caution to the wind with a review of a rom com? On the actual holiday you can be sure to expect the usual Popcorn Culture gold standard fare of blood, bondage, and hearts in candy boxes, but why not stray from tradition and go mainstream for a second? Not that 2009's TiMER is mainstream by any definition of the word. But there's not a drop of Karo syrup on set and that's good enough for me!
Presumably there is blood inside of these people, but we don't get to see it. Alas.
TiMER is a high concept indie sci-fi romantic comedy, and the more words you need to use to describe a thing, the better it tends to be. Think about it. Would you rather watch a Western or a space zombie Western musical? Anyway, the film tells the story of Oona O'Leary (Emma Caulfield of Buffy the Vampire Slayer), an unlucky-in-love girl in the not too distant future. She is a lonely neurotic who rushes into relationships, causing them to crash and burn.
But here's the twist: in this not too distant future, a tech company has created a device called the Timer, which is a clock implanted into your wrist that counts down to the day you will meet your soulmate. The second you lock eyes with them on the proscribed day, your timer will go off and you two will live in eternal bliss. It "takes the guesswork out of love."
Or it's supposed to. Oona's timer has never switched on, which either means that her One hasn't gotten his ass a timer yet, or... maybe she doesn't actually have a soulmate. Her already relatable neuroses are kicked into overdrive by this little blank gadget, a constant reminder that there's a potential for her to never have the happy ending that she's always dreamed of. No, it's not subtle. But it doesn't have to be. It's a fun, lighthearted comedy, dang it!
Side note: I really dig touting movies that nobody would ever expect me to love.
The best thing about TiMER is that it really puts effort into exploring the implications of its central invention on the dating lives of its participants and the world around them. The opening credits show a montage of how the device is incorporated into pop culture including sitcoms and the nightly news, and the rest of the film provides endless scenarios depicting its effects on race, class, sexuality, family, and friendships.
It's not often that a comic romance blends with soft science fiction, but it's downright statistically impossible for it to be such a successful combination of the disparate genres. There's even different models of timers depending on the period in which each character would have gotten theirs. There's not much else to the film outside of the timer and its immediate effects on the dating world, but when the topic is so a captivatingly original and comprehensively expressed, it's hard to complain.
After Oona meets a cute musician/bagboy named Mikey (John Patrick Amedori) with a timer reading four months, she begins to question her devout deference to the gadget's accuracy and begins a torrid romance despite her presumed knowledge that he will soon be meeting his true soulmate. Over the course of the film, Oona learns about life, love, messy reality, and the joy of taking detours.
And - oh my god, there's a clock. I see what you did there.
TiMER is unrelentingly sweet and sincere, operating in a low-key register that won't earn any hard-won fans, but never fails to charm. The film is full of tiny, scattered comic gems that brighten up the story like a 90-minute Easter Egg hunt. The tone is a perfect match for its budget: none too challenging and delightfully off-kilter.
After a while the dearth of budget does begin to wear on you (the timer makeup is never quite right and there is a preponderance of fade-outs), but TiMER makes up for it with a spunky, no-holds-barred approach to its material. Many of its central themes are surface-level, but it never shies away from staring down the audience and asking them the questions that really count.
Should we trust technology as implicitly as we do? Can we trust it to smooth the wrinkles out of life or are humans too complicated for that? Is there one fate for us? One love, one path, one true romance? Is life worth it without the mystery or is it better with a guarantee? And, most importantly, would you get a timer?
The film gets down on its knees and begs, implores you to ask these questions of yourself. It may not be the most subtle kid on the block (neither is Jenny, but y'all love her), but it successfully integrates ideas about our developing technology with some sunny comedy for flavor. The only other film to come close to truly tackling that subject in the way that it deserves was Her. Spike Jonze's film did it slightly better and more notably, but it's never quite as much fun as this quirky little lark with a spark in its eye.
By the way, this is Mik- hey look! Another clock. I'm onto them...
TL;DR: TiMER is a low-key, low-budget, high concept, weird little gem of a romantic comedy.
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