"I want a guarantee," TiMER's true love-challenged protagonist reluctantly answers when asked what she wants out of a relationship. Though it's a cliché sentiment, it's a true desire that we all want to have sometimes. And it's possible in the world of TiMER. Penned and directed by first-timer (pun intended) Jac Schaeffer, the movie revolves a little device that is implanted into a person's wrist and counts down to the moment that he or she meets his or her soul mate. It's a clever piece of MacGuffin-writing technology that keeps the plot moving, but it isn't long before the clichés take over.
Our "one" is Oona, an almost 30-year-old orthodontist whose timer is blank. Without a countdown to true happiness, Oona is in a holding pattern of self-pity and potential (albeit doomed) relationship choices to fill the time until her timer beeps on. Oona gets tired of waiting around and jumps into bed with a 22-year old grocery store clerk by day, drummer by night, who is completely wrong for Oona, though their chemistry is all sorts of right. TiMER's bizarre combination of sci-fi technology and romantic comedy means that it shares both genres' pitfalls in unbelievable technology and unabashed, predictable melodrama. Surprisingly, the movie still works thanks to the interesting and complicated questions that are implied, but never outright asked, with no attempt to answer them.
If you could have a device that tells you who your soul mate is, would you want it? What if you were married and the timers didn't sync up? What if you fall in love with someone whose timer doesn't match? These are all questions that circle Oona as she frets about her timer, falls head over heels for the wrong guy and then has to face that fact. (Whether real or self-fulfilling, the timers work.) Luckily, Schaeffer never lets her movie get too bogged down into the emotional chasms her whimsical technology, which is sold like cell phones (complete with data plans), opens up. With such a strong story-telling device in the timer itself, Schaeffer is free to focus on the relatable moments that Oona spends alone and the wrong relationship choices she makes while waiting for the "one."
Schaeffer also takes the time to explore the impact that such a technology would have on our culture. Part of the "i" generation (hence the title), the little device is already lodged into the film's culture. In one of the first scenes, Oona's 15-year old brother has a family party to celebrate the installation of his very own timer. While Oona languishes in romantic purgatory, her younger brother meets the person he will spend the rest of his very long life with in a matter of five days. As soon as his timer blinks on, his future is set and we understand the pitfalls of determinism technology. By showing us these moments, Schaeffer cleverly sidesteps excessive questioning or disbelief in the technology. Seeing its integration in the movie's society lets us accept it as quickly as a pair of white earbuds on the street.
Although TiMER's technology wins us over, it can't escape the trappings of its rom-com roots. Lovers trade arm, the betrayals (intentional or not) leave scars, and in the end, it doesn't turn out how you'd expect, but everyone is okay. Schaeffer and her charming cast so effortlessly and intelligently disarm the sci-fi genre trappings that it's disappointing when the plot pans out in typical predictable romantic comedy fashion. Despite TiMER's inability to deliver on its plot countdown, there is still enough to enjoy as the movie explores its character's relationships with its indie flair, and the questions its poses will be rattling around in your head long after the credits roll.