If you could live in a brave new romantic world without divorce, rejection, or fear that you'll never marry, would you do it? If you could get a timer implanted in your wrist that told you when you'd meet your soulmate -- for only $79.95! -- would you?
That's the premise of TiMER, a sci-fi romantic comedy that opened the 34th Cleveland International Film Festival last night.
Film fest openers need to appeal to a big audience -- festival sponsors, guests, and $125-a-head ticketholders filling five theaters at Tower City Cinemas. So TiMER was a shrewd choice: it's a funny, witty film with a fresh, provocative take on a popular genre.
Writer-director Jac Schaeffer writes circles around the average rom-com script, imagining all the ways her invention would transform how people date, fall in love, and marry. Turns out the timer doesn't solve all romantic problems -- it creates new ones. What do you do if your timer says you won't meet your soulmate for years? It's a new test of character: some stay chaste and focus on themselves, while others sow their wild oats right up until D-Day.
Women and men haven't changed in TiMER's world -- they react to the new romantic dilemmas in recognizable ways. Oona, the protagonist (played by Emma Caulfield of Buffy the Vampire Slayer), is still filled with marriage anxiety, because her timer is blank: Her match hasn't gotten his implant yet. So she dates timerless guys, coaxes them in for implants, then dumps them when she learns they aren't the one. Lovelorn and lonely, she balks when a free spirit with four months left on his clock proposes a fling. "Girls like you think I'm cheating on someone I haven't met yet," he quips. He's got her figured out.
Before the film, Schaeffer visited all five theaters with film fest board president Jules Belkin and Mayor Frank Jackson. Sitting in the third row, I reached for my cell phone when the mayor stepped forward, thinking it'd make a good picture. Then I stopped. By the time I rifled my pockets, got the phone into camera mode, and lined up the shot, I figured, the soft-spoken mayor would be done talking. I was right: His address (thanks for coming, I know you'll like the film, I hope you like Cleveland) lasted about 10 seconds.
Afterward, Schaeffer and co-producer Jennifer Glynn mingled with hundreds of party-goers at the reception in MK Ferguson Plaza, the beautiful old art-deco post office. The guests received egg timers as parting gifts.