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REEL DEAL: Rachel McAdams finds dimension in 'The Time Traveler's Wife'

Rachel McAdams has a smile like a magnesium flash and legs longer than a Friday night drive to the Hamptons. But she may be a wanderer in time: While contemporary Hollywood does back flips to get the attention of pimply males, McAdams recalls an ...

"The Time Traveler's Wife"
This movie still released by Warner Bros. Pictures shows Eric Bana as Henry and Rachel McAdams as Clare in New Line Cinema's romantic drama "The Time Traveler's Wife". (AP Photo/Warner Bros. Pictures)

Rachel McAdams has a smile like a magnesium flash and legs longer than a Friday night drive to the Hamptons. But she may 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 may play the title character, and owns the face gazing out of the poster, but she hasn't quite gotten the keys to the kingdom.

"I think it ebbs and flows," the 30-year-old actress said, smiling, during an interview in Manhattan. "I think of this film as a two-hander, definitely. 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 as the title character in the film. 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."

It may be happening now. 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 (played, at 6 and 8, by the wonderful Brooklynn Proulx), 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 (enter McAdams), he doesn't know who she is.

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Was she ever confused? "Many times," McAdams said.

As good as Bana is, it's McAdams who anchors this romantic vessel, much as she did "The Notebook." And it will be that film, in which she starred with former fiance (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."

"The Time Traveler's Wife" began life as a New Line film, and when that company folded, it became the ward of parent company Warner Bros. "I was happy when we became a Warner Bros. film, because when I first approached them about the 'Dark Victory' clip, they wouldn't give us the time of day," Schwentke said. "Then they asked for a tremendous amount of money. I always wanted that particular piece of film, so when we became a Warners movie, I said, 'OK, let's talk about this again!""

Schwentke got his clip, and a performance out of McAdams that is long on close-ups and rooted in emotion and conviction. It has to be. The premise is ridiculous. ("Hopefully," Schwentke said, "one understands it's just kind of standing for all sorts of other things.") 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 with its sci-fi element, both actress and director laughed. "That's not exactly the tagline," 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."

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MUST-SEE RACHEL MCADAMS MOVIES

"Mean Girls" (2004) _ Lindsay Lohan may have been the star of this Tina Fey-penned journey into adolescent hell, but as Regina George _ the cattiest item on the high school A-list _ McAdams created an indelible portrayal of teen vamp as social viper.

"The Notebook" (2004) _ No shortage of customers, or tears, at this Nick Cassavetes adaptation of the Nicholas Sparks novel about young lovers separated by wealth and class and the older selves they eventually become (played by James Garner and Gena Rowlands). McAdams was Allie, Ryan Gosling was Noah, and romance sparked off screen as well.

"Red Eye" (2005) _ There was terror at 30,000 feet as Wes Craven directed McAdams and Cillian Murphy in a bona fide thrill ride about a young woman kidnapped aboard a commercial air flight (by a guy named Jackson Rippner!). Tense, tautly constructed, terrific movie.

"Wedding Crashers" (2005) _ Monster hit about a pair of divorce mediators (Vince Vaughn, Owen Wilson) whose hobby _ crashing strangers' weddings _ usually results in uncomplicated sex. McAdams is the woman who inspires Wilson to change his evil ways.

"Married Life" (2007) _ McAdams is the convincing "other woman" in Ira Sachs' black comedy about death and divorce, in which Harry (Chris Cooper) decides to kill his wife, Pat (Patricia Clarkson), to spare her the pain of his leaving her. Also featured: Pierce Brosnan.

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