VOD film review: TiMER (2009)
Brendon Connelly | On 23, Jan 2022
Director: Jac Schaeffer
Cast: Emma Caulfield, Michelle Borth, John Patrick Amedori, Desmond Harrington, JoBeth Williams
There are surprisingly few sci-fi rom-coms, although it’s hard to know why this is when the science fiction toolkit is so handy for prising open and dissecting the inner workings of character. Case in point is the tremendously successful Timer, which neatly applies the metaphor-enhancing powers of a future technology to aid and amplify its inquiry into affairs of the heart.
The starting premise is pristine and cunning: the Timer is a sci-fi body enhancement worn embedded in the wrist, and which counts down the days, hours, minutes and seconds until its owner meets their “soulmate”. Oona, as played by the endlessly likeable Emma Caulfield, makes the decision to get her Timer fitted in the opening seconds of the movie. She takes her current beau along and, after a little trepidation, they each get a device attached.
His read-out reveals that he won’t meet his soulmate for 916 days, which immediately announces to the characters – who, at this point, have at least bought into the accuracy of the Timer – that neither is the “correct” match for the other. The big surprise, however, is that Oona’s Timer is blank. This, we’re told, is because her one true love does not have a Timer attached. If Oona is to find the kindred soul that she’s promised, she’ll have to look among the Timer-less. This is where she will find, among others, Mikey, who works in a grocery store and tries to live “in the moment”. Could he be “the one”?
Obviously, the science side of this particular sci-fi notion is fanciful, but it’s a brilliant narrative device, and while you’d be able to set your watch by some of the story’s twists and turns – this is, after all, a romantic comedy – others are a touch more devious, and all are played out nicely, generating funny, sincere scenes and a little heartache, where necessary.
The unpleasantness of a world that might create something like the Timer device is explored fairly quietly, but there’s a lot of detail that rewards scrutiny, right down to the company’s heteronormative corporate logo, hidden in plain sight. And where does polygamy fit into their corporate world view?
Jac Schaeffer’s dialogue is at least as pleasing as her world-building, being clever but not smug, with a friendly, not-too-hip tone that doesn’t smooth out all of the characters or veer into the worst excesses of stylisation. Caulfield proved on Buffy the Vampire Slayer that she can juice Big Lines for all their worth, and with Timer’s dial set a couple of notches back towards natural, she still gets maximum value out of her scenes.
Obviously the debut of one to watch, Timer ironically heralded a future that wasn’t delivered in the most obvious way. It was the first feature film of writer-director Schaeffer, who has more recently made a home at Marvel, working on the screenplays for Captain Marvel and Black Widow, and creating and co-writing WandaVision (listen to Timer’s opening titles for a sly, feminist barb that gives a hint of her interest in spiking sitcom convention).
Timer might be accessible and likeable but it has a friendly indie sensibility, too lo-fi for a studio-made sci-fi with a script too idiosyncratic to be a likely studio rom-com. It might not have reached a wide audience on release, but Timer’s time may be yet to come, a hidden cult hit ready to surprise WandaVision fans who are willing to take a punt on something smaller but no less rewarding.