What stops us from loving the people we want to love, when we want to love them? What are we afraid of? Why can't we just tell them how we really feel? It seems foolish not to, and yet we don't. Wouldn't we all be better off if we could just know for sure and ahead of time exactly whom we should love and whether they will bother to love us back?
TiMER, a "science fiction romantic comedy" (of sorts), dares to ask these questions. And answer them. With a brutal ferocity that is for the most part charmingly concealed behind the trappings of a conventional Hollywood rom-com.
The premise is that at some point in the near future (*very* near, apparently, because the characters don't even have smartphones), a company called "TiMER" invents, well, a timer, which gets embedded in your wrist and counts down the days, hours, and seconds until you meet your one true soulmate and live happily ever after. The catch is that you have to pay $79.99 for the device plus a monthly fee, forever, and that your timer only works if your one true soulmate shells out for a timer as well. Ah capitalism...is there any problem it can't invent and then solve?
Emma Caulfield (of Buffy the Vampire Slayer fame) plays Oona O'Leary, a woman having a mid-life crisis of sorts because she is about to turn 30, but whereas all of her friends have "zeroed out" and found their soulmates, she cannot find hers, or even know if she ever will, because her Mr. Right (whoever he is) hasn't manned up purchased a goddamn timer yet. Essentially, amidst the TiMER world of perfect safety and security and perfect knowledge in matters relating to love, Oona is still living in the world that we all live in, a world with no guarantees, and she is desperate to get out.
Backed by a loving step-sister with problems of her own (a sassy Michelle Borth), and amid give-and-take with an overbearing but caring mother (an effervescent JoBeth Williams), Oona starts falling for an unlikely suitor who is also outside the logic of the timer, except by choice - he actively rejects the system.
This movie is a delightful puzzlebox of deep philosophical questions hidden behind friendly banter and winning yet nuanced performances by talented actors. The script (by first-time writer and director Jac Schaeffer) is a true gem - every line felt totally natural and true-to-life and yet there were several genuinely laugh-out-loud moments. Truly a testament to the notion that we need to let more women write and direct these kinds of films.
In the end however, the movie constructs a trap for itself. Namely, the movie hates the very idea of the timer and all that it represents, and wants you to hate it just as much, and yet within the internal logic of the film, the timer actually works, goshdarnit, all of the time, bringing real happiness to everyone it touches. In the end, there are only two ways out of this trap - to either take a hard right turn into the land of saccharine cliche, or else subvert the entire genre of the romantic comedy from within.
Let's just say that I'm glad that this film did not escape entirely from the trap. Ambiguity in a romantic comedy? How unexpectedly refreshing!
Amazingly, this quirky, endearing, low-budget treasure never even made it into wide release, but the reason why is rather obvious: the male characters are little more than props and eye-candy for a story that's mostly about three women. Now, you and I might agree that turnabout is fair play, but even after all these years, Hollywood just isn't ready for a film that very nearly passes the Bechdel test. That this wonderful, deeply though-provoking film has been so thoroughly ignored and overlooked is a true tragedy, but fortunately one that you can help rectify by watching this film as soon as you get a chance.