NEW YORK — Rachel McAdams might be a wanderer in time: While contemporary Hollywood does back flips to get the attention of pimply males, McAdams recalls an era when women in hats ruled the box office, and dramas dropped like ripe figs from the bountiful orchards of the Warner brothers.
Is it a cosmic coincidence that her new film, The Time Traveler's Wife, includes a clip of Bette Davis in that classic weeper Dark Victory? McAdams might have been Davis. Or Joan Crawford. Or Myrna Loy. Alas, she lives in the wrong period of cinema history: She might play the title character, but she hasn't quite gotten the keys to the kingdom.
"I think it ebbs and flows. I think of this film as a two-hander, definitely," the actress, 30, said referring to a film with just two main characters. "But Warner Bros. has stated quite specifically that they don't really make movies where females are the protagonist, which I think is really sad and unfortunate. Because I think women can definitely open films. It's happening more and more."
A Warner Bros. spokeswoman responded: "We are very proud of The Time Traveler's Wife and of Rachel's performance ... . Obviously, we are disappointed that she seems unaware of the many wonderful films from Warner Bros. with strong female leading roles, but we feel our track record speaks for itself."
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Director Robert Schwentke's romantic fantasy, based on the popular Audrey Niffenegger novel, stars McAdams and Eric Bana as lovers separated — time and again — by time. Bana plays Henry, whose genetic abnormality sends him tripping through the decades at the most inopportune moments. He regularly visits Clare, who grows up in love with Henry, waiting to catch up with him and become his wife. Henry, meanwhile, crisscrosses his own time-space continuum to the point that when he and Clare meet as adults, he doesn't know who she is.
As good as Bana is, McAdams anchors this romantic vessel, much as she did The Notebook. And it will be that film, in which she starred with former fiancé (and fellow Canadian) Ryan Gosling, that draws comparisons to The Time Traveler's Wife — rather than, say, Wedding Crashers or Mean Girls, two better-known McAdams entries.
There aren't obvious parallels between the two films, outside of a deep well of sentiment and the kind of fatefulness to make hankies appear. "But I guess the scope of the love story is great, and for that reason I can see the comparison," McAdams said.
Schwentke agreed. "I think the tonality is different," he said, "but it's interesting, because the romantic drama has become very scarce. It used to be a great staple of the Hollywood mainstream, the films of the '50s. I loved those films, and I definitely see our film as part of that lineage."
McAdams said Schwentke — whose films include the Jodie Foster thriller Flightplan — was interested in the subtleties of love and a depth of feeling, rather than the showiness of it.
"I remember saying, 'When do I get to cry and scream and throw myself across the room?'" McAdams said. Schwentke told her it wasn't that kind of thing. "He said, 'You have to serve a very different kind of real-life relationship and we need to try to get as close as we can without any gimmicks, dramatic entrances or door-slamming.'"
When it was suggested that they've made a chick flick that guys will see because of its sci-fi element, actress and director laughed.
"That's not exactly the tag line," McAdams said.
"It's sort of a metaphor for whatever it is that tears you apart, whatever you have to overcome in a relationship, whatever your challenge may be," she said. "This is their particular challenge, which should suggest other challenges that people can relate to — separation, for instance. And choosing each other, every day, despite the struggle. That's the key to this film."