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Why won't the universe let Rachel McAdams time travel?
It's a question that often keeps me up at night. A top-tier actress, a pop culture icon, a Canadian national treasure who has been relegated to girlfriend status in some of the most popular genre movies dealing with interdimensional wayfaring. She's always the time traveler's wife, never the time traveler, and it needs to stop.
To understand the depths of this particular injustice, we'll need to journey back to the beginning. Not of McAdams' career, because she was a proven talent long before with films like Mean Girls and The Notebook. No, we must jump to a 2009 ditty, The Time Traveler's Wife.
In this sci-fi romance, McAdams plays Claire Abshire, a young woman who falls in love with a man cursed with the ability to travel through time. We say "cursed" because Henry, her eventual husband, played by the unfairly attractive Eric Bana, has no control over where or when he Back to the Futures himself. Now, this obviously provides a bit of humor, especially since he can't seem to hold onto his clothes while exploring the limits of closed-loop theory, but it also means Claire is constantly left in the lurch. On her wedding day. In the delivery room. During holiday get-togethers.
And so, for the first, though not the last, time McAdams must act as the emotional pillar for a story that explores the paranormal adversity faced by a handsome white man. She does it well here, which might be why she continues to be tapped for this kind of thing. Really, it's a testament to her talent that she can convince us all to skip the large swath of the film that builds a romance between a little girl and a grown-ass man who charms her into keeping track of his spontaneous Doctor Who-like exploits so that she can provide him with clothes when he eventually pops up naked in her backyard.
But while Bana's Henry enjoys exploring the space-time continuum, swooning over the teenaged version of his future wife, unleashing emotional terrorism on a woman who really had no control over her fate because her life was constantly interrupted by a good-looking guy who assured her they were soulmates, McAdams must stay stagnant. She lives large bits of life alone. She suffers, bears a child, experiences milestone moments without her partner by her side. And that means — while Bana hops from era to era, sometimes anguished, sometimes joyful — McAdams is almost constantly devastated. She's crying … in a bathtub, in the foyer, when she learns of her husband's future death date. She endures the worst consequences of time travel without any of the perks.
It becomes a pattern.
In Woody Allen's truly awful, blatantly misogynistic fantasy-comedy, Midnight in Paris, McAdams plays Inez, the narcissistic, shallow fiancé of Owen Wilson's screenwriting genius, Gil. Gil likes Paris in the rain. He wants to write meaningful books. He values the past. Inez hopes to live in Malibu, off her future husband's dime, encouraging him to cash his checks rather than chase his passion. She's also having an affair, something Gil realizes after multiple nights traveling to various "golden ages" and having his work lauded by artistic greats like Ernest Hemingway and Gertrude Stein. He shares a drink with Pablo Picasso, discusses theories of relativity with Salvador Dali, parties at the Belle Époque-era Moulin Rouge all while Inez vacations with her conservative, controlling family, cavorts with a pedantic know-it-all, and grows increasingly annoyed by Gil's love of the Parisian restaurant scene. It is, truly, a waste of McAdam's unlimited time-traveling potential and deserves to burn in Hell for all eternity.
Lighter fare follows this travesty. Though McAdams is still denied her right to wreak havoc on the space-time continuum, she does get to flirt heavily with a baby-faced Domhnall Gleeson in Richard Curtis' genre rom-com, About Time. Gleeson's Tim is a bumbling romantic who uses his ability to slink through dimensions like some ginger-haired time bandit, but he learns lessons along the way, realizing that the more he tries to change his life instead of just enjoying it, the worse things seem to become. He's guided by his father (a woefully underappreciated Bill Nighy) as only the men in his bloodline have this ability. So again, though their romance is charmingly sweet, McAdams is still pigeonholed into the role of a romantic interest. Worse, here she's not even aware of her true love's supernatural abilities, which means her fairly common desire to have another child with her husband puts him in a devastating position. You almost resent her for it, before the film drops its final message: to enjoy the present and remember the past.
Technically, McAdams stars in another alternate-universe traversing movie, Marvel's Doctor Strange, though she pops up so infrequently we're not sure it deserves much time here. Despite her best efforts, McAdams once again plays a one-note romantic sidekick to Benedict Cumberbatch's Stephen Strange, an egotistical neurosurgeon who's imbued with mystical powers after a devastating accident. Her character, a fellow surgeon named Christine Palmer, entertains Strange's worst personality defects, attempting to help him in his recovery, agreeing to perform emergency surgery on his physical body while his corporeal form barks orders at her, rolling with the mindf*** that is her ex-lover's new gig as the Sorcerer Supreme – which sounds more like a Taco Bell special than anything else.
In all of these films, McAdams is never once afforded the ability to stretch her science fiction limits by traversing the plane of time and space herself. Instead, she's an ex-girlfriend, a future wife, a love interest, a cheating fiancé whose life revolves around a man gifted that ability for suspiciously vague reasons.
Why is that? Why won't the world let Rachel McAdams time travel?
Is the risk too great? Say she accidentally ran into a past version of herself, sparking a paradoxical event. Would the world implode on itself? Would all romance movies from the beginning of time cease to exist? Would we never get to hear the Icelandic jingle "Ja Ja Ding Dong?"
Maybe. But it's possible a time-traveling McAdams could be the hero we need in these dark times.
Imagine, if you will, Rachel McAdams journeying through the wormhole to prevent societal tragedies – World War II, the final season of Game of Thrones, the current pandemic, the discourse surrounding the Cats butthole cut. How much better would our current timeline be if Rachel McAdams were just allowed to surf the dimensions like a laws-of-physics-defying Johnny Tsunami?
We need that alternate universe, and we need it now.