Injecting science fiction into a story can be a bit of a magic wand. Slick futuristic plot devices can make a few “what if” and “would-coulda-shoulda” dreams come true with a figurative wave of a hand or taps on a screenwriter’s keyboard. Nevertheless, that kind of intellectual escapism in movies will always tantalize. Embracing a quaint romance with heady consequences, The Time Capsule flicks its wrist for a little magic without sacrificing the seriousness of its premise’s implications. It debuts in theaters and VOD on June 3rd.
In the not-too-distant future, Jack Lambert (Todd Grinnell of Amazon’s With Love) is an enthusiastic and optimistic politician coming off of a very public election loss. Jarred in the confidence department and licking his public image wounds, Jack seeks solace and media silence, much to the chagrin of his publicist Roger (Ravi Patel of Meet the Patels). He decides to take his extremely poised and goal-centered wife Maggie (Shut Eye’s KaDee Strickland) down to his family’s old lake house in Georgia for some R&R and a romantic getaway.
The man has not been back to the place in 20 years and embraces the simplified homeliness it brings, while Maggie plots for its quick refurbishment in order to turn a profitable sale. To bring the place back into its former glory, Jack enlists his old friend Patrice (comedian and podcaster Baron Vaughn) to perform the work, and the two reconnect as buddies. Jack welcomes the old memories both Patrice and the lake house bring, but nothing prepares him for the overwhelming sight of Elise (Brianna Hildebrand of Lucifer and Deadpool).
Here’s the intriguing rub of science fiction. Elise left with her father Hank (Nelson Bonilla of Ozark) twenty years ago for a colonization mission to space that returned in failure. She awakened from the hibernation journey back on Earth unaged. She looks and feels as 18 as the day she left, while the world, Jack, and everyone else moved forward two decades.
The Time Capsule’s introduction/reintroduction of Elise coyly opens up the moral and ethical questions of its premise for the audience. One cannot help but ask themselves if they could have put life on hold the way Elise did for such a quest. They will simultaneously measure what their mindsets would be both as Elise being displaced by time and as Jack being forced to remember who he used to be before the same years changed and jaded him.
With a not-so-subtle hint of behest paired with competition, Maggie welcomes Elise into their home only for her to be marginalized by her and others as too young to understand the wisdom of everyone else and the current times. Conversations with her are frequently peppered with admonishing retorts of “you’ll see” or “you’ll learn.” In fair contrast, Elise sees the older versions of her former friends and questions how they got so boring, bitter, content with disappointment, and tired without the dreams she remembers them having. There’s a reason both ages of patronizing people get that way, and the dueling barbs of self-reflection hit home strongly.
Through it all, the connection between Elise and Jack is undeniable. A rolling quarter of fate brought them together at a movie theater, and the two were lockstep in their adoration and ambition until she departed. That coin has been in Jack’s pocket ever since as a good luck charm. They were each other’s first loves and those always resonate for life with next level specialness. For Elise, that love was yesterday while it’s been over 7,300 yesterdays for Jack. They initially find themselves living life with different attitudes, wants, and little in common. Yet, here Jack is with that coin in his pocket as if he never truly let her go.
It would be really easy for a movie like The Time Capsule to skew to the lustful side of this kind of serendipitous dream fulfillment. Plenty of middle-aged men could very well find an unshakeable desire to galivant with their dream girl magically still at their prime dream girl age. Debut feature director Erwann Marshall and his co-writer Chad Fifer (The Chosen One) wisely avoid that fetishistic trap and instead put the moral ideals forward in the film.
Through their rekindled time together, Elise and Jack are thrust into an enchanting situation of reexamined possibilities only with two different gaps of experienced history. Elise’s future is wide open while Jack is firmly married and earmarked for the next big political contest. Their bygone and borderline forbidden attraction is tempered while they explore their true selves and comparatively heal their mutual lost feelings from where they used to be. For a little movie like this one to stoke those controlled fires in an alluring way without overplaying the melodrama is a tremendous accomplishment.
The magnetic sweep of The Time Capsule emanates from the yearning energy generated by this lead couple and kept at an arm’s length. The soft-eyed Todd Grinnell wears his feelings on his sleeve in a very fine performance balancing honesty and chivalry. Even greater, Brianna Hildebrand’s hopeful spirit is as fetching as her youthful beauty. The hearts of their character match so well, even if their exterior ages do not, where you root for one more sci-fi infusion of magic.
Marshall and Fifer used the guarded and obstructed romantic feelings of The Time Capsule to ponder the endurance of relationships. Their narrative applies the word “vast” to the wonder and mystery of love within the very advanced setting of its story. That’s a fitting word to describe all the little pieces of fate, destiny, choices, and emotions that line up between two people. As softly as it does, The Time Capsule successfully conveys that level of contemplation in a wholly endearing way.