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emma caulfield.jpg

Phillip K. Dick Meets a Romantic Comedy (With a Dash of Whedon)

By Dustin Rowles | Film | June 29, 2010 |

By Dustin Rowles | Film | June 29, 2010 |

TiMER is one of the many low-budget indie flicks that make the film festival rounds but never pick up any real distribution. In the olden days, way back in 2008, such a movie would be completely forgotten. But that was before Netflix Instant, where movies without distribution can be discovered at virtually no cost.

However, I can see why a distributor wouldn’t touch the movie: It doesn’t have any marketable star power — “Buffy the Vampire Slayer’s” Emma Caulfield (she was Anya) is the only recognizable actor — and on paper, the idea of a romantic comedy blending with the concepts of Philip K. Dick is likely to alienate sci-fi and romantic comedy fans alike.

It’s too bad, because while the sci-fi elements in TiMER might not appeal to the average sci-fi enthusiast, they’re definitely not heavy enough to alienate fans of relationship comedies. More to the point: I thought TiMER successfully blended the two genres to make an intriguing point: How fulfilling would our relationships really be if there weren’t the possibility of heartbreak?

The conceit is this: There’s a company that provides Timers that are implanted on your wrist that can, with 100 percent accuracy, tell you exactly when you will meet your ideal partner. Each implant has a timer and, while it won’t tell you who your soul mate is, it will alert you when you first make eye contact.

There are a couple of catches, however. Not everyone wears a Timer, nor is anyone required to wear them, so if your ideal partner is not fitted with a Timer, your Timer will be blanked out, meaning you have no clue who your partner is or when you will meet him or her. That’s what’s at play for Oona (Emma Caulfield) (and yes, it is a bad indie romantic comedy name). Her Timer is blanked out, so she has no idea when she’ll meet her ideal partner, and each time she meets a man and the relationship advances past a few dates, she insist that he be equipped with a Timer to see if the two are meant to be because, if not, what’s the point in continuing to date? Unfortunately for Oona, every time she takes a man to get fitted with a Timer, she discovers that his ideal partner is someone who is not her.

The other catch is this, and it applies to Oona’s sister, Steph (Michelle Borth, “Tell Me You Love Me,” “The Forgotten”): What if your timer told you that you wouldn’t meet your life partner for another 10 or 15 years? What do you do in the meantime? For Steph, and others like her, it’s mostly a matter of engaging in a series of casual sex encounters until the time runs out. (The inverse problem is also true, and applies to a 9th grader in the film who, to his own dismay, finds his true love before he can even start dating).

The wrinkle comes when Oona, an orthodontist approaching 30, meets young slackadaisical Taylor Kitschian grocery store cashier, Mikey (John Patrick Amedori). Mikey’s Timer says that he’s set to meet his ideal partner in less than four months, so Oona decides to kill some time sport-fucking the guy until his ideal woman comes along. Why not, after all? She knows they’re not meant for each other, so who can get hurt? The problem, of course, is that both Oona and MIkey — despite the difference in maturity levels and socioeconomic standings — fall for each other, even though they both know they’re not meant for each other and, as such, they won’t ultimately end up together.

The interesting dynamic here is that, unlike actual Phillip K. Dick stories, no one is trying to tear down or escape the system — the technology is voluntary, after all — or expose its flaws, as there are none. If there were flaws in the Timer’s matchmaking technology, writer/director Jac Schaeffer couldn’t have made his ultimate point as well. And that point is, if you could know exactly when you’d meet your life partner, would you opt in to such a system knowing that — until that moment — committing to someone else was pointless? It would basically render heartbreak obsolete, as no one would develop strong feelings for someone else knowing that a break-up is inevitable. And really, how valuable is love if there’s no potential for heartache?

The film itself doesn’t quite live up to the ideas presented in TiMER; it is a romantic comedy, after all. It’s far more lightweight and frothy than the themes bubbling underneath. But I like the kind of movie that will sneak intelligent ideas past you under the guise of a chick flick. The writing is a little rough around the edges and occasionally a little rote, and there are no stand-out performances, though both Caulfield and Borth are charming and more than a little attractive. The movie also displays that low-budget glossiness you might be familiar with from other movies of the same ilk, like Kissing Jessica Stein, but that’s not a strike against it.

All of which is to say: It’s a chick-flick, but it’s smart, endearing, and at times even a little sexy. And the beautiful irony about the film is this: In a movie about accurately predicting your love life, TiMER manages to be as unpredictable a romantic comedy as you’re likely to see. Indeed, while watching Sandra Bullock and Ryan Reynolds kiss at the end of a romantic comedy might give some of you the warm fuzzies, it’s a movie like TiMER that reminds you that those kisses are warmer and fuzzier if they’re earned instead of predicted.

(A Grateful Hat Tip to Caroline for the recommendation.)

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Dustin is the founder and co-owner of Pajiba. You may email him here, follow him on Twitter, or listen to his weekly TV podcast, Podjiba.