As it turns out, the Timer process is more complicated than it looks in that initial teaser. My assumption was that people were given Timers 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 bonds her with her sister Steph (Michelle Borth), whose Timer is ticking towards a date many years in the future, but leaves her emotionally 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.
I've seen a fair share of romantic comedies. As a guy, my taste in these kinds of films tends toward the male-centric (a part of the genre that John Cusack has cornered with High Fidelity, Grosse Pointe Blank and Better Off Dead), but it wasn't until I saw Timer that I realized how oddly unfeminine the average romantic comedy is. At one point, for whatever reason, I wanted to vent against the kind of crap Hollywood was producing, so I suffered through the shockingly misogynstic (nay, misanthropic) Katherine Heigl/Gerard Butler disaster The Ugly Truth and wrote a fairly hateful DVDTalk review that never ran, because the site didn't get a DVD screener. That movie, to summarize that write-up, doesn't have a clue about men or women, but the thing that seems more interesting upon reflection is that it doesn't even feel like it comes from a woman's perspective, despite a script by three of them. Fellow Online Film Critics Society member MaryAnn Johanson has been railing against "the male gaze" lately, which is the way a movie assumes, through its depiction of events and people, that the viewer is male. It's not that The Ugly Truth represents "the male gaze", but it feels like it represents 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, I see films where the 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 illustrate both sides of the picture, without giving too much credence to "herself" in the Oona character.
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-concieved the way most of these things do. I've gotten so tired of seeing budding romances in movies (most of the time in movies where it isn't a given, like action films), but Timer's energized me, made me care for 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. I was unsure, despite my admiration for the film, that Schaeffer could stick the landing, finding a that balance 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 relieving to say that Timer manages to slip by, cleverly juggling all the pieces in a way that makes sleeping in seem like fate. I may not be the target audience for these kinds of films, but Timer is an immensely enjoyable triumph that actually has a voice, and I think anyone who swallows contrived crap like Killers or The Bounty Hunter as cinematic comfort food should consider that a "chick flick" can be more than mindless junk food, and give Timer a shot.
The Video and Audio
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).
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.