In one world Jennie Logan is married to a guy who cheated on her and desperately tries to make it up to her by paying lots of attention to her. After the basketball game he’s watching is over. In her other world, Jennie Logan is 80 years in the past, going on boat rides and sharing the bed of an artist played by Beastmaster Marc Singer (Dead Space). Jennie is seeing a disbelieving therapist about all this, but who could blame her if her sessions were more so that she could brag about her sexy time traveling than trying to actually get any help?
Jennie and Michael Logan move out of the city to a small town and buy the old Reynolds place up on the hill. The Logans are trying to make a fresh start after Jennie caught Michael banging some co-ed he met at his teaching job. Despite Jennie saying she has forgiven Michael, she keeps having flashbacks to her husband together with the woman and won’t let Michael touch her. She complains that she thinks for Michael, sex is just a physical thing, not anything deeper.
Guess who is right in her pretty face, with longish hair, mustache and mostly bare-chested blathering on about how love is some sort of creative expression? Turn of the century tortured artist David Reynolds! It’s not like the Twentieth Century invented players!
But what is Jennie doing making a Back to the Future booty call? Wasn’t she just in the attic of her new home admiring and trying on the dress she found up there? In the great tradition of Dr. Emmett L. Brown’s DeLorean and that hot tub from Hot Tub Time Machine, the dress has the strange power to transport her back to 1899 when David Reynolds was the owner of the house, still brooding (and really horny!) after the death of his beloved wife Pamela!
Alienated from her clueless and cloddish modern day husband, Jennie quickly becomes obsessed with her increasingly frequent journeys to the past. She spends her time in the present day embarrassingly trying to convince her husband and therapist that her time in 1899 is real. As she so reasonably puts it to her her shrink, once everyone thought it was fantasy that man would walk on the moon so why can’t an old dress transport her back in time! Exactly Jennie! Aren’t those NASA spacesuits just time traveling dresses, but with kick ass mission patches?
All is not just fabulous gala balls and sweaty painters in the past though! There is murder afoot and the hunky widower David is smack in the crosshairs! From her knowledge of the past, Jennie knows that David dies sometime after the town’s turn of the century celebration. His death remains unsolved though the speculation is that he was either killed in a duel with his dead wife’s father who blames him for his daughter’s death or by the mysterious woman he is seen with who we know is Jennie!
The film attempts to leverage this as some big mystery central to the climax of things, but the seemingly random introduction of the town’s oldest living resident “Betty” combined with Pamela’s sister Elizabeth, who is angry at David spurning her affections back in the past easily telegraphs where this part of the story is going. That it was never made clear what the actual relationship between David and Elizabeth was or why Elizabeth thought it wasn’t unseemly to be going after her sister’s husband so soon after her death felt lazy and contrived.
The film also fails to generate any suspense about the choice Jennie is making. Her husband is such an overbearing douche, anyone would retreat into the past to be with someone else. When not complaining about the reception of his basketball game, he’s whining that Jennie is using her perfect fake man from the past to throw in his face how lacking he is. Come on Jennie! Just because I cheated on you, you don’t need to invent some fantasy hunk who doesn’t cheat on you! How can I compete with that? It’s just not fair!
The characters in the past fare just as poorly as their dialogue is delivered in an overly stilted manner and feels more like a junior high girl’s idea of how people spoke in “olden times” than anything else.
None of it is terribly exciting, the only real suspense being Jennie’s ultimate fate which is about the only thing that manages to be interesting. Her husband making a discovery in the attic that seems to prove everything his wife said true was really the only effective moment. (When he touched the dress, I wondered for a moment if he might put it on and travel back in time to find his wife. Then I quickly snapped back out of my own time traveling cross dressing fantasy world and remembered this was a 1979 TV movie starring Lindsay Wagner, not one of these weirdo foreign sci-if movies like The Quiet Earth.)
A low key and shallow (Jennie has zero problems adjusting to life 80 years ago) examination of longing for a simpler time and better husband, it’s only thought provoking in that you’ll be thinking about how much better it could have been if the premise was fleshed out beyond its “hot guy in past is nicer to me than jerk guy in present” pitch.
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