Most romantic comedies are neither romantic nor a comedy.
Really, is there much romance in watching two highly paid stars drift together over the course of two hours? And, are the situations ever truly funny, rather than simply awkward?
I don’t watch RomComs for those very reasons – they emphasize wattage over chemistry, and winces over laughter. My own life is more romantic and comedic than most movies in the genre.
None of that is true for TiMER, a beautiful, witty, indie flick full of love and laughter. It’s a romantic comedy through and through, but it hardly delves into the pedestrian trope of most RomComs thanks to its clever titular premise.
A near neighbor to Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind and similar to the quirky premise of How I Met Your Mother, TiMER is speculative fiction without the ray guns or alien races. It depicts an alternately reality only a shade different from our own, where science has found a way not only to divine your soul mate, but to define the exact day you’ll first meet them.
The process is simple. Visit a TiMER storefront (as ubiquitous as a cell phone store) and have a small digital screen implanted into your wrist. Your screen will count down to zero: the day you meet your true love.
It sounds ideal – you’ll know exactly when the one is really the one; no more worrying you’ll die alone or dating your way through losers.
Step-sisters Oona (Emma Caufield) and Steph (Michelle Borth) are a microcosm of why finding the one isn’t as simple as science. Oona’s TiMER won’t start counting down, while Steph’s is ticking towards a date in the far-flung future. And their little brother, barely old enough to have the device installed, gets an unexpected result.
Are any of the three situations better than going on blind dates, or having unrequited crushes? Both disappear from life when finding your soul mate is a matter of waiting for a special ring tone, which explains why many people in the world of TiMER go defiantly bare-wristed. Otherwise, romance would be extinct – no more courting, or transforming from friends into lovers. At least, not if you’re hoping it will last forever.
Emma Caulfield, most known for portraying the daffy, rabbit-fearing, reformed-demon Anya on Buffy the Vampire Slayer, carries the film with comedic aplomb. It’s surprising to see her take center stage so handily after watching her as an ensemble player.
Caulfield is just neurotic enough to come off normal, an orthodontist on the verge of 30 who is beginning to worry that it’s her that’s defective rather than her timer. Her typical zaniness is dialed down, leaving her sympathetic and vulnerable as the lovelorn Oona.
Similarly, Michelle Borth plays what could have been a flat depiction of promiscuity as an exercise in ethics. She portrays Steph as smartly self-aware instead of simply slutty (while remaining an utter bombshell). If your true love is years away, why not enjoy yourself with no strings attached with others in the same situation?
The rest of the supporting cast is strong, especially romantic foil John Patrick Amedori, exuding magnetic charm from his first line, and the rest of Ooma and Steph’s extended clan.
The movie wisely plays fast and loose with its science – in lieu of special effects and lengthy expositions it wields a script that injects reality into an unreal situation. The workings of the central device are left largely unexplained and to the viewer’s imagination, leaving room to speculate around the main story.
TiMER finds a way to inject romance into a world supposedly devoid of it, and stays comedic throughout. It’s also the first film so wistfully romantic that I was driven to actually hold my wife’s hand at the climax.
TiMER is currently showing in limited release, and is also available for streaming via Netflix.