“Needle in a Time Stamp” review – The Hollywood Reporter
There are surely few people on the planet who do not have wished they could go back in time and change the way one relationship or another turned out. Needle in a parking meter create a world where people can actually do it, as long as they have enough money. A single man can change the timeline so that his marriage never ends, his ex was never gone, and his best friend never married her.
But whether the lonely man can separate true soulmates for good seems like a whole other question, and that’s the one explored in writer-director John Ridley’s adaptation of Robert Silverberg’s short story. The premise is rich in potential for a painful romance and meaningful contemplation of how time and technology can shape the way we view our relationships. So it’s a shame that this version crumbles under closer scrutiny, with a storyline that feels love-loving more like a theoretical concept than a lived experience.
Needle in a parking meter
The bottom line
A serious but mistaken story of cursed lovers.
The film opens with a tearful Cynthia Erivo pledging her love forever straight into the camera, in a scene that works as a litmus test for the viewer: either you’re willing to accept such shameless sentimentality, or you’re not. you’re not, you’ll probably enjoy the movie more if you are. (I was, for the record, but that didn’t help much.) Gradually, she revealed herself to be Janine, a photographer whose marriage to town planner Nick (Leslie Odom Jr.) consisted of all Usual cinematic shortcuts for “deeply in love”: They are bathed in soft, soft light as they snuggle up in the subway, slowly dance to records at home, and gaze at each other with moon eyes across crowded rooms and crumpled beds.
There’s only one crack in their perfect marriage, and it takes the form of Janine’s ex-husband Tommy (Orlando Bloom, perfectly smarmy). Nick is increasingly consumed with the suspicion that Tommy has altered the timeline to take Janine back for himself, and while he’s not wrong, the film initially suggests that Nick’s jealousy poses an even greater threat. for her marriage than Tommy’s interference. The damage is reflected in Janine’s horror when Nick suggests he goes back in time to hurt Tommy so that Janine was never married to him, and in warnings from Nick’s sister (Jadyn Wong) that her fear of losing Janine might be the very thing that actually loses her.
Corn Needle in a parking meter walks away from that line of thinking in its second act by launching a major twist of time travel. The first act carefully exposes how the “ride” (traveling in the past) fits into this universe. The warping of time has become common enough that “phasing” (the ripple effects of a change in the past, visually represented by waves that look a bit like living water) is considered a minor annoyance. of modern life; even events as once final as death can no longer be taken for granted. But the movie doesn’t really care about the implications for anyone or anything beyond Nick’s love life. Time travel turns out to be just a twist in an otherwise fairly conventional love story.
Which turns out to be a problem, because even with her attractive cast, Needle in a parking meter struggles to deliver a compelling romance. Odom and Erivo look cute and comfortable together, but the film offers Instagram-worthy snapshots of a relationship rather than the unique reality of one. You never know exactly why Nick and Janine might belong together, or similarly why Janine and Tommy might not. The introduction of another potential love interest, Nick’s ex Alex (Freida Pinto) only confuses matters further, as none of the female characters are fleshed out enough for there to be an actual distinction between them. Besides, neither has much to say about their own romantic destiny; it’s up to Nick and Tommy to fend for themselves.
Indeed, the only truly interesting relationship to emerge from this mess of heartbroken lovers is that between Nick and Tommy. Depending on when they interact and the state of their timeline, they’re fierce friends relying on each other for emotional support, fierce rivals locked in a zero-sum game, or something in between. Jumps forward or backward reveal new bits of history, new sides of their personality, or new ways of understanding regrets and resentments between them. The film’s portrayal of their relationship may be incomplete, but it’s also vibrant in ways the others aren’t, and reveals more about the two men than the entire sum of their dating lives can.
It’s a shame the film insists on centering the romances. Over and over, the characters say to themselves “I just want you to be happy” – sometimes as a plea, sometimes as an apology, sometimes as a concession. But the film’s vision of happiness unfortunately turns out to be limited, unable to overcome the socially accepted flaw of a single soul mate and perhaps a few children. (Even the one character who calls monogamy “misery with company” is wholly devoted to a platonic best friend and no one else.) If love is a circle, as Janine posits in this opening speech, Needle in a parking meter suggests it’s the one spinning in place – still moving, but unable to go anywhere again.