Hello, friends in time, and welcome to a regular feature on Cinema 52 where I put my weekly viewing of Back to the Future on hold and watch another movie featuring time travel for comparison. It may not keep me sane, but it will probably always involve one guy shouting, “This doesn’t make any sense!” And that’s good enough for me.
11 MINUTES AGO (2007)
When I declared the book shut on Time Travel Romantic Comedies and awarded Happy Accidents the gold medal, I was informed on Twitter by a gentleman named Adam Rubinstein that no, there is another. 11 Minutes Ago is the story of Pack (Ian Michaels), a scientist from 48 years in the future who’s arrived in our time to collect some crucial data. Rather inconveniently, the area where his laboratory will one day stand is currently being used for a wedding reception. To further complicate matters, a woman named Cynthia (Christina Mauro) seems completely enamored with him… even though they’ve never met. Huh? Wha? Mockumentary.
Honestly, the premise is nothing short of genius. Pack can only stay in our time in 11-minute increments, and because “time-tumbling” is shaky at best, he doesn’t dare to cross his own timeline, so he’s essentially that guest at the party that nobody remembers inviting, but he’s also experiencing the whole day out of order. Oh, and each trip takes Pack months of prep work, so even if he recognizes you, he barely remembers what you said to him the last time. Or the next time?
Ugh, there’s always a guy drawing time travel charts at every wedding. (It’s usually me.)
The icing on the wedding cake is the camera crew following Pack everywhere. They’re supposed to be filming the reception, but because they’re all A.V. nerds, they know time travel is more important than love. (Nerd fist pound, because you’re damn right it is.) This plot point adds so much to an already incredible concept: it turns the film into a found footage mockumentary, it allows Pack to deliver exposition directly to the camera, and it adds tension and humor when the bride and her family are ripshit at the crew for not doing their jobs.
Other things more fun to film than a wedding: LARPing, dead birds, your foot.
The story’s only weakness is the romantic sub-plot, but that’s okay because… oh, wait, that’s not okay at all. That’s the plot-plot. That’s the genre. It’s a romance.
We’ll discuss part of the problem in the spoilery section, and we’ll discuss the rest of the problem right now.
When you’re watching a no-budget film, no matter how good the script is, substandard acting is par for the course. I can usually sweep it aside if the story’s blowing my mind, and I was willing to do that here… almost.
Ian Michaels makes a passable scientist. He’s fun to watch as his mission constantly changes throughout the night. Since we see his journey unfold in the order he experiences it, following his character’s arc is easy and his performance is enjoyable.
He’s the “lovably doofy cousin” of scientists.
Unfortunately, we get to know every other character out of chronological order, and while the various sub-plots of the wedding guests can be entertaining, getting the set-ups after the pay-offs makes it hard to feel connected to them. I wanted to blame the inconsistencies of the other characters on all the time traveling, but deep in my heart, I feel like we’ve just got garden variety bad acting here.
“Is that plutonium in your pocket?”
Christina Mauro comes on a little too strong at the beginning. Like, porn star strong. I get that her character Cynthia is supposed to be swept up with this fellow, but even if you watched this in the “correct” order, you wouldn’t think it’s love. You’d think it’s roofies. And the chemistry between them, backwards or not, is just bizarre. I get that the story they’re telling is temporally disjointed, but that’s all the more reason you want solid actors, both for the sci-fi and the romance.
Man, I hope this works out. The science part, I mean.
Some of the background characters are more captivating than the leads. Taryn Reneau especially shines as the beautifully pissed-off bride, whose special day is ruined by the strange new geek getting all the screen time. As much as I side with the crew’s decision to change the focus of their little documentary, her performance made me care more about her disappointment than the time-crossed lovers.
Never hire relatives to film your wedding.
Oh, and Evan Lee Dahl’s performance as an increasingly intoxicated groom is great to see out of sequence, but who knows? Maybe this shoot was lax about sobriety.
“This guy, he’s the science with the guy… Tim travel.”
THE SPECIAL EFFECTS:
I award them all the cleverness points for this budget-reducing plot point: Pack’s time-tumbling machine only works in the dark.
Boo! CGI sucked in 2007!
OTHER (SPOILERY) STUFF:
- Okay, we’re gonna ruin this whole thing, so skip to the next section if you do want to see this. Films are about macro-moments and micro-moments. This film, like most science fiction, relies heavily on kick-ass macro-moments (time traveling through a party), and it’s completely solid on that front. Romances, on the other hand, typically center around their micro-moments (brushing against someone’s hand, sighing, shit like that). 11 Minutes Ago centers around how Pack and Cynthia will end up together, but because of the temporal displacement, we already know they succeed. This means we’re pushed towards a climax that hangs on exactly what Pack said to convince Cynthia… and that’s when the movie falls flat on its face. He rambles the bullshittiest, douchiest poetic nonsense at her, and it instantly transforms from a story about intimate connections to the time some dick sweet-talked a woman into fucking him in a closet. He gets all emo about capturing moments in bubbles; at one point, he says, “Chair squeaking,” and she responds, “Wine stain on a tablecloth.” My buddy Adam‘s reaction was appropriate: “Um, they’re just saying words now.” Sure, romance isn’t universal, but if this is how you fell in love, I’m sorry. I hope he called again.
- And the spoilers continue, so move along. Speaking of the right thing to say, how about the fucking truth? Pack never tells Cynthia he’s a time traveler. There are implications that he might later, but that still means he decided to bang her first. And it gets worse; you could argue that most time travelers don’t let on that they’re time travelers, but he tells the entire camera crew! So now a bunch of horny nerds are following him around to find out how Pack gets his fuck on. And film it. (The how, not the fuck.) And none of them tell her he’s a time traveler either! How is this a romance again?
- Not a spoiler at all. The poster, the website, and the credits desperately want you to know that the film was shot entirely in one day. While, say, the fact that Russkiy kovcheg was shot in a continuous take actually adds to the feel of the film, nothing in this movie is particularly enhanced by the shoot’s time limit, so I’m not sure why this seemed like a selling point.
THE “NONE OF THIS MAKES ANY SENSE!” MOMENT:
For a meta-bonus, the writer-director of the film (Bob Gebert) also plays the director of the film-within-the-film, who gives himself the best line in regards to the mess that is time travel:
“I can’t wait to get this edited together so I can figure out what the hell’s going on!“
11 Minutes Ago has an A+ concept that fizzles a bit in the execution. A few corny lines of dialogue can sometimes be excusable, but when they’re at a pivotal moment that your entire film has been building to, it’s embarrassing enough to drop you down a letter grade or two. It’s an ambitious project, to be sure, and worth a second viewing to appreciate its framework, but while I’d put this temporal mockumentary fairly high in the time travel canon, it’s a resounding “meh” as a romance.
I’d still rather watch it than Kate & Leopold, though.
LATER THIS WEEK:
Want more time travel? Head on over to the Time Out archive.