As many as four years ago, I stumbled upon the teaser trailer for Timer on YouTube by accident. The hook: in the not-too-distant future, people have wrist-implanted countdown clocks indicating the moment they'll meet their true love. It's one of those movie gimmicks that could easily turn out terribly, but it captured the imagination long enough that when the movie showed up on the DVDTalk request list this year, I remembered what it was
From the teaser, one might think the Timer process occurs at birth, but it turns out it's a voluntary process, and if your soulmate doesn't have one, your Timer will be blank until that person takes the plunge. Oona (Emma Caulfield) is one of those people hounded by a blank readout; time after time she brings unadorned guys to the Timer store to get injected, and time after time, her numbers don't come up. Her situation helps strengthen her bond with her sister Steph (Michelle Borth), whose Timer is ticking towards a date many years in the future, but she becomes cold to the average stranger, who already has a date saved for someone else. Oona drifts along, cosmically anxious, until her 15-year-old brother finally gets his Timer, and his big moment is 3 days away. It's the straw that breaks the camel's back, and Oona finally throws caution to the wind, targeting 22-year-old Mikey (John Patrick Amedori), a grocery store clerk who flirts with her despite a deadline 4 months away. Until then, there's no reason the two can't have a bit of fun, but as the date begins to loom, the burden is on Oona to switch off.
Another thing that isn't necessarily apparent from the trailer: Timer unexpectedly emphasizes how unfeminine the average romantic comedy is. Pick any Katherine Heigl movie off the shelf and not only will it feature an undercurrent of misogyny (or perhaps a direct current, if we're talking The Ugly Truth), but those kinds of films are oddly free of perspective or viewpoint. Guy-centric rom-coms like Grosse Point Blank and High Fidelity have a strong male perspective, but films supposedly intended for women, written by women, come off as neutral. Fellow critic MaryAnn Johanson has recently begun openly criticizing the "the male gaze", which is the way a movie assumes, through its depiction of events and people, that the viewer is male. It's not that these films all represent the male gaze, but that they feel like they represent nobody.
Timer was written and directed by a woman named Jac Schaeffer, and it has a refreshingly feminine perspective on things that really imbues the movie with personality and attitude. The central bond in Timer is not necessarily the one between Oona and Mikey, but the one between Oona and Steph, with constant support from JoBeth Williams as their mother. Given how authentic these relationships feel, it's no surprise to learn that a good portion of the screenplay is Schaeffer tweaking her own experiences to fit her film's science-fiction premise, which she does with a strong sense of perspective and self-awareness rather than exaggeration and self-deprecation. All too often, a writer/director has obviously turned their experiences into fodder for the film without trying to observe what happened from a perspective other than their own, but Schaeffer is careful to translate her memories into Oona with a measure of objectivity.
Caulfield is wonderfully charming as Oona, giving her the kind of resilience a character like this needs. Timer could be a big pity party for Oona, in which she comes off as needy and sad, but she has an ability to bounce back that makes her likable instead. She also claims her sexuality instead of letting the opportunity find her, striding back into Mikey's grocery store after rebuffing his earlier attempts to draw her out of her shell. She and Amedori (who exists somewhere between Patrick Fugit and Paul Dano) have great chemistry together, in both the high and low points, and none of their passion feels pre-conceived the way most of these things do. Budding romances in movies have become tiring (most of the time in movies where it isn't a given, like action films), but Timer's is energizing, successfully selling the appeal of Oona and Mikey as a couple.
Of course, Timer has a slight conundrum at its core: there are only so many outcomes to this story that could hit all the right bases, and they start to bubble up in the viewer's mind long before the film is over. As the film continues, the tension mounts as to whether Schaeffer can stick the landing, finding that tricky sweet spot between the logical and unexpected that would also avoid crushing Oona's fighting spirit or the movie's romantic atmosphere. Maybe it's not perfect, but it's a relief to say that Timer succeeds, cleverly juggling all the pieces in a way that makes sleeping in seem like fate. Timer is an immensely enjoyable triumph that actually has a voice, a refreshing reprieve from the bland predictability of Hollywood's rom-com output.
Bold, clean packaging clearly illustrate the movie's concept without any bad photoshop. The back cover may be just a little too basic, but all in all, I don't have any complaints about the design here. The disc is packed into an Infiniti case, and no insert is included.
The Video and Audio
Timer is blessed with one of the best-looking standard-definition transfers I've seen as of late, with strong colors and contrast, and only the lightest hint of softness, most visible during the opening credits. I think the only pattern I saw the DVD struggle with is a very close pinstripe pattern on Desmond Harrington's shirt. Obviously, a movie like Timer is going for naturalism, so it doesn't necessarily leap off the screen or sear itself into the viewer's eyeballs, but it looks very good.
Dolby Digital 5.1 is bouncy and well-mixed, especially when it comes to Andrew Kaiser's wonderful, Huckabees/Me and You and Everyone We Know-esque score (a true highlight of the film). All too often, when it comes to low-budget independent films, the mixing feels sparse or cheap, but even without a whole lot of stuff going on in the soundscape, Timer has the appropriate handful of heft for its subject matter. On the other hand, I'm disappointed by a lack of any subtitles on the disc. Closed captioning is provided, but there really ought to be tracks on the disc itself, as I've never gotten TV-generated captions to work on an HDTV (only old tube TVs).
For some weird reason, five deleted scenes (0:31, 0:43, 0:37, 2:47, 0:53) are accessible straight off the main menu. The fourth and longest scene, involving a recurring gag about telemarketers, might've been a nice inclusion, but otherwise, these are unnecessary. I also have to mention that the lack of a "Play All" option is always a mistake, and that, having been one, a person who administers telephone surveys is not technically a telemarketer.
Next, on the actual "Special Features" menu, we have two featurettes, called "The Making of Timer" (8:46, aka "Countdown to Love: Behind the Scenes of Timer" according to the featurette itself), and "Inside the Timer Store" (1:34, aka "The Timer Store"). They're pretty light, but the cast interviews feel more genuine than your average EPK, and it's cool to hear from the production designer regarding the Timer Store, so they're worth a look. Video features are rounded out by a reel of bloopers (3:16), which is...a blooper reel, although there's a tiny bit more of Kali Rocha and Eric Jungmann (from Not Another Teen Movie) as Timer Store clerks.
Last but not least, we have a feature-length audio commentary with director Jac Schaeffer. Red flags reflexively go up upon hearing it's her first commentary, but go back down almost as quickly when it's clear she'll actually have something to say rather than narrating or remaining silent. Actually, it's more like listening to a friend than listening to an audio commentary; I bet you'll recognize Schaeffer's particular brand of light sarcasm and self-deprecating humor as similar to someone you know almost right off the bat. Surprise inspirations include Zack Snyder's Dawn of the Dead, "The X-Files", The Goonies, and Zodiac; less-surprising ones include Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind and other mainstream-indie films like Little Miss Sunshine and (grumble) (500) Days of Summer. She also reveals something fairly personal near the end of the track, and even if it's not the kind of revelation is likely to throw the viewer's life into upheaval, it's nice to hear a director be completely and truly candid and open with the audience.
Trailers for Adopted, Good Intentions, and Play the Game automatically unspool before the main menu. Two theatrical trailers for Timer are also included, although neither are the teaser trailer I saw on YouTube, which started with the Timer commercial.
These "big premise" comedies are always a bit of a risk, because it's a fine line to walk between a genius idea and a genuine story, and the fact that Timer is also a romantic comedy adds another series of traps for the film to fall into. Thanks to writer/director Jac Schaeffer, Timer walks the tightrope and makes it across in one piece. It's a sweet, sexy love story that separates itself from the pack. The DVD has solid picture and audio and packs on a nice commentary and a few video bonuses to boot. I almost ran this review with a "highly recommended" rating, but after considering it, Timer, as the special, clever, personal movie that it is, is worthy of the DVDTalk Collector's Series -- it's something special.
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