Time Travel Thursdays: Shuffle (2011)
Time travel tropes6
Matthew Turner | On 30, Jul 2020Reading time: 4 mins
Director: Kurt Kuenne
Cast: T.J. Thyne, Paula Rhodes, Meeghan Holaway, Dylan Sprayberry, Elle Labadie, Tamara Taylor, Patricia Belcher
Watch Shuffle online in the UK: Amazon Prime / iTunes / Prime Video (Buy/Rent)
Wondering how to fill the time travel gap now that Travelers and Timeless have been cancelled? Transport yourself no further than Time Travel Thursdays, our column devoted to time travel movies. It’s on Thursdays.
Written and directed by Kurt Kuenne, this micro-budget time travel mystery opens with a terrific premise. Frazzled 30-something photographer Lovell Milo (T.J. Thyne) tells his therapist (Patricia Belcher) that he’s living his life out of order: every day he wakes up on a different day of his life, at a different age, and he never knows where or when he’s going to be the next day.
As Lovell explains, he remembers nothing about his life before his time-leaping started, but he nonetheless always knows the relevant details (how old he is, where he is, the names of everyone around him) whenever he wakes up. Advised by a strangely omniscient young girl to “pay attention”, Lovell realises that there’s a mystery to be solved. Could his time-jumping have something to do with the disappearance of Grace (Paula Rhodes), the childhood friend he eventually married?
Despite the similarities to Quantum Leap, Shuffle doesn’t opt for any flashing lights or special effects when it comes to its depiction of time travel, instead opting for a Groundhog Day-style cut to wherever he wakes up. As an added inconvenience, he also has narcolepsy, so he’s liable to wake up in weird situations, like having sex (which doesn’t go down well) or driving a car.
In terms of time travel tropes, Shuffle’s strongest element is the way that it makes the time travel itself part of the central mystery, but there are several other nice little touches too. Chief amongst these is a clever moment where Lovell realises he’s just taken a photograph that he’s seen repeatedly in his other leaps. Those connections – the moments where the audience goes “Aha” – are a huge part of the appeal of time travel movies in general and Shuffle ticks those boxes nicely.
The film benefits from a strong lead performance by T.J. Thyne, a familiar TV face who’s had bit parts in things like Ghost World, but rarely gets to play leads. He does an excellent job here, convincingly portraying Lovell at different stages of his life and investing the role with genuine emotion. The supporting cast are equally good, particularly Rhodes, who’s almost impossibly sweet as Grace, and child actors Dylan Sprayberry and Elle Labadie, who play Lovell and Grace as 12-year-olds.
It’s fair to say that Shuffle’s microscopic budget is apparent in every frame, but it just goes to show that all you need for a decent time travel movie is a great idea and a decent grasp of storytelling. To that end, there are several great moments here, particularly the way Lovell’s watch is used, variously provoking tension, shock and strong emotions.
That’s not to say that the film doesn’t have any problems. For one thing, Kuenne (acting as cinematographer, as well as composer and editor) uses way too much sepia, to the point where it feels like he discovered the filter and then couldn’t turn it off. It seems clear that the sepia was meant to indicate when Lovell was in a different time period, but since that’s the majority of the movie, it adds nothing to the story and ends up being irritating, actively ruining at least one key scene.
Similarly, a few key questions go unasked in the script, such as whether Lovell can actually change anything, or if he’s just there to observe. There’s also the question of exactly what everyone else sees whenever Lovell falls asleep and leaps to another time.
As for the central mystery, the ending makes perfect sense, but it’s also disappointingly conventional and therefore a little predictable – a shame when the premise was so original. However, despite the clichéd destination, the trip itself is still worth your time.
Shuffle is available to watch online on Amazon Prime Video as part of a Prime membership or a £5.99 monthly subscription.