Film writer AJ Caulfield has taken the #52FilmsbyWomen pledge, where she will watch one movie directed by a women per week throughout 2018. Here on The Young Folks, AJ reflects on the films she’s viewed — including female-directed classics and new-to-the-scene flicks — in efforts to celebrate female voices in the media landscape. Learn more about the #52FilmsbyWomen project here.
A not-quite-succinct-but-I’m-aiming-for-brevity list of things that make me ugly cry: Remembering the smell of my childhood home during the summer time (Banana Boat sunscreen, Sunny D, mounds of cut grass drying out in the Florida heat); Matthew McConaughey’s acceptance speech at the 2014 Oscars after winning the glimmering Best Actor award (I know it’s weird); the Paul Simon-only version of “I Am A Rock” (it really is far more heartbreaking without Art Garfunkel involved, though he’s a masterful musician); and filmmaker Jac Schaeffer’s 2009 directorial debut TiMER.
Led by Buffy the Vampire Slayer alum Emma Caulfield, who ping-pongs an effervescent chemistry with Gossip Girl and Stick It actor John Patrick Amedori, TiMER grounds itself in the irrefutable verity that life rarely offers you any guarantees — and when it does, the assurances are sparse and sporadic. Except for the gadget from which the film takes its name: the TiMER, a tiny digital clock implant that tracks the time — right down to the second — until one person crosses paths with their “One.” The circumstances surrounding the fateful meeting for which most TiMER-wearers anxiously await are unclear: The device can’t tell you how or where the sparks will fly and the beginning of the rest of your life in love will unravel; it only sets off a tiny, twee alarm when you and your perfect match finally lock eyes — almost as if to mirror the inevitable wedding bells.
It’s high-concept indie sci-fi with hard-and-fast specifics that are largely explained away with a quick “because, well, science,” and it all sounds like the perfect, fabled answer to the oftentimes fruitless endeavor of dating in the current age (how many conversations have you had, think-pieces you’ve read about how Utterly Awful 21st-century courtship is?). Caulfield’s Oona O’Leary has TiMER with no read out — it’s been blank since the day she had it sci-fi-staple-gunned into her wrist, signaling that whomever her One True Love is, he hasn’t yet taken the leap and gotten a TiMER of his own. This also means Oona, a lovely but lonely orthodontist nearing her 30th birthday, has been relegated to days spent two ways: 1) staring at her currently purposeless TiMER, or 2) actively seeking out TiMER-less men and convincing them to get the implant once she has a good feeling about their relationship. Needless to say, Oona’s efforts, no matter how relentless, prove unavailing.
But at least Oona isn’t alone in her postmodern misery: Her twenty-something half-sister Steph DePaul, played by Hawaii Five-0’s Michelle Borth, is also chewing on the short end of the stick, using the fact that her TiMER says she won’t brush shoulders with Mr. Right until she’s in her 40s to engage in passionate, fleeting flings free from strings. While Oona obsesses over her lack of days, Steph takes the sadness her 5000-plus remaining days to become something of a man-killer. Neither are healthy coping mechanisms, per se, but the troubled two get by.
Elsewhere in the O’Leary-DePaul family, Oona and Steph’s 14-year-old brother Jesse goes through the coming-of-age motion of getting his TiMER implanted — and immediately discovers he has just three days before he meets his One. This drives Oona to the proverbial ledge, and Steph to scoot even further into her TiMER-averse corner of resentment. Basically, it’s the pits for everyone involved (even their teen sibling, who has no idea what to make of such life-altering information), apart from Oona’s giddy and oblivious mother Marion, portrayed perfectly by JoBeth Williams, who is over-the-moon that at least one of her kids’ love life will be easy.
A sliver of sunny, baby-faced hope slices through the cloud of despair when Oona meets Amedori’s Mikey Evers, a 22-year-old drummer with flowy hair, an unmade bed, and a house full of roommates. Oh yeah, and four months left on his TiMER. Adamant that “life is about detours,” Mikey and his carefree attitude win Oona over, even with her initial skepticism, and the mismatched pair dive into a rendezvous they know is destined to crumble. Their fate is sealed right there on the small, blippy screen of Mikey’s TiMER.
Steph struggles to snuggle into the same screw-it-all mindset Oona has, and refuses to start a relationship with the dazzling (and distinctly TiMER-less) widower Dan, played by Dexter actor Desmond Harrington. She knows for certain that Dan isn’t her One, so she figures she’s better off alone — and Dan’s better off with Oona, since his wrist is clean and her’s is still just a gray rectangle of gloom.
Without spoiling how Oona and Mikey, Dan and Steph, and Jesse and (surprise!) the daughter of the family’s housekeeper disentangle themselves from the mess they’ve become ensnared in, because it really is a story you’ll want to witness on your own, I’ll say that TiMER splays out in a sequence of waves, crashing down with hope and optimism in one moment, squeezing your heart with unexpected anguish in the next.
What writer-director Schaeffer does so well with TiMER is finding balance not between romance and sci-fi like its genre label would suggest, but between romance and so much more: spikes of satire, a commentary on the subtle and perhaps unconscious racism amongst people of wealth, the weirdness of dating made possible through shiny new devices. All that runs in the film’s undercurrent, letting the genuine likability of its cast and the raw emotion of its narrative glisten in the limelight.
Schaeffer’s film shows that ignorance isn’t always bliss, the truth doesn’t always have to hurt, and that love knows no bounds, not even when a TiMER’s stuck in your veins.