I love Netflix‘s “Watch Instantly” feature. At the touch of a few buttons, any number of films and television shows can zoom across the Interwebs, straight to my television. So on a whim, I can take a chance on a completely new film I’d somehow missed.
I just finished watching TiMER, an indie rom-com from earlier this year that examines a question I’ve often entertained, as a 31-year-old single woman. What if you had a countdown telling you exactly when you’d meet your soulmate?
The ever-delightful-but-would-someone-please-feed-her-a-dozen-burgers-so-I-can-no-longer-count-her-ribs Emma Caulfield stars as Oona, an orthodontist approaching 30 whose TiMER is blank, meaning her One hasn’t had his TiMER implanted yet. So she takes boyfriend after boyfriend into an eHarmony-dialed-to-11 shop in the hopes that his brand-new TiMER will chime with hers, indicating that they’re meant to spend the rest of their lives together. Of course, boyfriend after boyfriend’s new TiMERs end up showing countdowns, meaning their One is still out there and leaving Oona with the question whether to keep enjoying what they have until he meets Her, or walk away from him. Invariably, she walks. (I’m amused that Emma is Buffy the Vampire Slayer alumna Anya, the demon you could call upon to punish the partner who just broke your heart.)
On the flip side is Oona’s step-sister Steph, whose TiMER indicates she won’t meet the One until she’s 43. So in the meantime, Steph is having repeated one-night stands with TiMERed guys she meets at her night job as a bartender. During the day, she’s a receptionist at a nursing home so (she admits later in the film) she doesn’t have to be surrounded by people with TiMERs.
I’m picky about rom-coms, but I enjoyed this one. The premise is about something I’ve always wished to have, and the film takes an interesting look at it. Do you sit around waiting for the clock to tick down, or do you get on with your life? What if you start falling for someone who doesn’t have a TiMER or whose countdown doesn’t match yours? Should someone like Steph get involved in a relationship, knowing that although her clock is ticking, she has plenty of time to enjoy a connection with one partner?
One of the little touches I most liked in the film is that even the TiMER Matchmakers don’t guarantee love at first sight when you “zero out”. The countdown indicates the moment when you meet your soulmate; how your relationship with that person evolves is still left to free will and natural circumstances. You might hate them at first sight or start out as friends. Of course, as you get deeper into the film’s world, this idea is exposed for the ridiculousness it is. Everyone knows what that chime means; surely the two partners’ reactions to each other would then be skewed. You might not like the look of them, but your TiMERs just went off, so you’re going to give them a chance.
(I’m going to get into spoilers, so if you want to bail now, I’ll just say: I liked it and I’d recommend it. I gave it 4 out of 5 stars on Netflix.)
Of course, the focus is on Oona’s flirtation and developing relationship with Mikey, a cashier at the local supermarket who is also a drummer in a mildly successful band and whose countdown is set to go off in four months. After Oona’s brother’s TiMER is implanted and immediately starts counting down from five days, the still-blank-TiMERed Oona impetuously throws her own loyalty to the science aside in favor of a “I need to feel better about myself” one-night stand with Mikey (played by the unexpectedly shmexy and sweet John Patrick Amedori). But after she backs out of that one night without going further than some hot-and-heavy kissing, she runs into him playing a gig at Steph’s bar, finds herself drawn back to him, and the two begin a relationship. This leads to one of the film’s best one-liners, when Mikey’s roommates return home early and taunt him about his impending tryst with Oona, calling him a pussy. Mikey retorts, “If I’m a pussy, I’m about to have the best lesbian sex of my life in there!”
It’s eventually revealed that Mikey’s TiMER is a fake – a stick-on to sidestep the question of the TiMER and allow him to get to know a woman the old-fashioned way. This revelation leaves Oona in a struggle between her belief in the science of the TiMERs and her connection with Mikey. (I have to add that Emma and John’s chemistry does make their on-screen romance believable.)
Above and beyond the basic girl-meets-hot-drummer plot, TiMER takes at least a brief look at everything from inter-class relationships to “late bloomers” to real true love, often without wasting a lot of extra dialogue. Although briefly touched on, each of these subthemes is actually given some depth if you pay attention to the words and facial expressions employed, while leaving plenty of room for real-life discussions with your friends and family.
When Oona’s mother Marion introduces her just-leaving Hispanic housekeeper to her daughters, she sees the woman to the door, turns around, and flippantly tells her daughters, “Not a lick of English!” before changing the topic to her teenage son’s imminent TiMER implantation. In five words, you know quite a lot about Marion’s view of the class structure of America. So imagine the tableau when, a mere five days later, the son’s TiMER chimes in unison with that of the housekeeper’s daughter! The two mothers later admit (via a translator) that they would have preferred it if the two teenagers had started dating in secret and forced the families together later, after they were already married. And earlier in that scene, there’s a very sweet moment of the son using halting Spanish, obviously learned for the occasion, to tell his soulmate something like, “I hope that one day you’ll let me love you.”
And then there’s the question of those relationships one has before meeting one’s soulmate. Are they worthless? Marion’s first marriage ended around the time that she had her TiMER implanted. Oona explains to another character that her mother used her countdown as proof that they needed a divorce. When Marion says something to her daughter about that first marriage being a mistake, Oona confronts her with the question, “What about me? Was I a mistake?” And goes on to point out that it’s a contradiction to say that Paul (Steph’s father) is Marion’s soulmate whilst also declaring that Oona is the best thing ever to happen to her (or words to that effect). Although it’s not directly stated, there’s a message there about not regretting the path that made you the person you currently are.
Later, in an attempt to do something helpful for Mikey, Oona visits her estranged music producer father and asks him to take a listen to the band’s music. Struggling with her own questions about TiMERs and her relationship with Mikey, Oona asks her father why he never got implanted with one of the devices. He reveals that he did, “just before you and your mother left.” Astonished, his daughter asks him when he zeroed out. “I haven’t yet,” he says, giving the film’s touch on finding one’s soulmate late in life. But more touching is the sisters’ encounter with the father’s current partner, who sports a scar on her wrist. When it’s noticed, she tells the sisters that she had her device removed – although it showed that she was not the father’s One, “I still love him.”
This revelation of real true love inspires the sisters to return to the storefront and demand their devices be uninstalled. Steph’s is removed first and then just as Oona’s is about to be taken, it springs to life, counting down from five hours. Her soulmate had just had his installed, somewhere out there, giving Oona both the hope she’d so longed to have and derision from her sister for not going through with their agreement to remove the devices.
The newly bad blood between the sisters is only worsened when Oona’s TiMER chimes at their joint birthday party, in unison with the device on the wrist of Dan, the man with whom Steph had almost reluctantly been forming a bond. Dan is a widower who’d figured he had his chance at love and had no interest in the TiMER until he met Steph, with whom he was having such a good time that he decided he was ready to try again. Ah, irony.
As with most rom-coms, there is a more-or-less happy ending to all of this. It doesn’t quite wrap up neatly with a bow, but there’s a hopefulness for a future Happily Ever After by the time the credits roll. As for exactly what happens, I’ll leave that for you to see.
For a final thought on the validity of the idea of “The One,” I leave you in the capable hands of Tim Minchin: