Richard Curtis, the mind behind Notting Hill and Love Actually, returns with a new romantic comedy with a science fiction bent in About Time. Is this romantic, slice of life comedy up to his usual standards or is it a disappointment? Jeffrey Harris checks in with his official review.
Directed By: Richard Curtis Written By: Richard Curtis Runtime: 123 minutes MPAA Rating: Rated R
Tim Lake - Domhnall Gleeson Mary - Rachel McAdams Timís Dad - Bill Nighy Kit Kat - Lydia Wilson Mary Lake - Lindsay Duncan Uncle Desmond - Richard Cordery Harry - Tom Hollander Charlotte - Margot Robbie Jay - Will Merrick Rory - Harry Hadden-Paton Joanna - Vanessa Kirby Jimmy Kincade - Tom Hughes
Even I can enjoy a good romantic comedy now and again, and when I do, it might as well be from a connoisseur and master in the genre, Richard Curtis. Curtis previously wrote and produced such hits as Four Weddings and a Funeral and Notting Hill before making his directorial debut with the runaway hit Love Actually. About Time is not earth-shattering. Itís very schmaltzy, overly-sentimental, butÖat least itís good.
The story begins by introducing Tim Lake, a socially awkward young man who lives with his loving parents (Nighy and Duncan) at their beachside home in Cornwall. Timís dad is probably the coolest, most understanding and cultured father of all time. Along with his cloudy, hipster sister Kit Kat (Wilson) and eccentric Uncle Desmond (Cordery), Timís family are altogether quirky but incredibly pleasant and functional.
Then Tim learns one day from his father that all men in their family have the power to travel back in time. All they have to do is go into a small enclosed space, clench their fists, and imagine the time and place they want to be and they will literally go there. In total, itís a fairly innocuous device for a story that just as easily could have gone without it, with a few minor changes of course. Logistically, the time travel utilized throughout the story is confusing and oftentimes makes absolutely no sense. Curtis introduces rules of the time travel that are quickly forgotten about or downright ignored later.
Based on his fatherís advice, Tim decides that heíd like to use the time travel in order to get a girlfriend. It doesn't help much after Tim gets his heart broken by Kit Katís friend, Charlotte (Robbie), when she spends the summer with Timís family. First he attempts confessing his love to her before Charlotte explains that he waited too long (her last night on the trip) to tell her. Tim then travels back in time a month earlier to confess this time to Charlotte, who then says Tim should wait for the last night on the trip. It is little moments like this where the story does shine.
Later, Tim moves to London to get a job as a lawyer. He eventually meets and finds love with the American expatriate Mary (McAdams). The two have a wonderful meeting and first date, which Tim foolishly erases in order to salvage a theatrical disaster for his seething playwright landlord, Harry (Hollander). By going back in time, Tim inhabits his own body. Thereís no indication Tim could ever cross paths with himself. So he should have realized by opting to help Harry, he never goes out to dinner and meets Mary. Instead of going back to fix this and just minding his business with Harry, he opts to search for Mary at a Kate Moss exhibit (Mary loves Kate Moss). Sheís already dating someone else at this point, so instead he goes to the party where Mary met her new boyfriend and prevents the two from ever dating. Well, the third time was the charm, and Tim starts a loving and passionate relationship with Mary.
About Time then transitions really into a dramedy-style, slice of life story. The time travel elements are more or less incidental and window dressing to the plot. At times, the time travel seems unnecessary. And one wonders if that is Curtis' point. You donít really need time travel to fix your life, to be happy, or to make your life better. Had Tim not used time travel at all, he still would have met and had a fine relationship with Mary. It was time travel to help the miserly Harry that almost screwed that up. Tim and Mary eventually get hitched and start a family. However, it is strange that Tim does not use time travel to mend his disastrous wedding (that Mary is totally cool with for some reason). Having just been through two weddings in the span of about of two months, itís hard to believe anyone would accept getting rained out. This is a romantic comedy, so go figure.
Then the story moves into more serious territory as Tim tries to deal with his beloved sisterís alcoholism and destructive relationship. Again, itís an issue that Tim is unable to fix with time travel. Doing so almost causes terrible results for his life (he erases the birth of his daughter). However, it is equally confusing how Tim was able to easily go back and erase this problem. So again, the time travel element at times is more of a head-scratching issue and detriment to the plot than anything else.
That aside the story is still appealingly heartwarming and nice. The characters and cast members are all infinitely likable and fun, especially Bill Nighy as the coolest dad on the planet. Seriously, the screen dads played by Tom Hanks and Kevin Costner have nothing on Bill Nighy. The role is not a big stretch for Rachel McAdams based on her previous work, but I canít recall a role where sheís been as adorable and almost sickeningly loveable as she is here. Domhnall Gleeson, the talented son of Brendan Gleeson, makes for a great, unconventional, yet charismatic lead. I like the humor in this movie since it is mostly subtle, and Curtis never hits you over the head with it. The movie is not overly comedic, but the humorous moments peppered throughout the story still provide excellent comedic nourishment.
Curtis does a good job in giving a decent male-centric perspective for the romantic comedy, which you donít always see done in an effective way. In some ways, this film is an heir apparent of sorts to a similarly-themed film, Sliding Doors. That film did not involve time travel, but it did have a slight sci-fi bent by showcasing the main character in dual realities or parallel universes.
Curtis seems to find his footing in the storyís more sobering, realistic moments that don't really involve time travel. One of the more entertaining scenes in the movie is Tim watching Mary trying on about a million different outfits for an important dinner meeting. In the more realistic, non-time travel related scenes, Curtis' writing and direction really shine. Curtis gives the movie a slice of life tone without hitting you over the head with melodrama in the low-points of Tim's life, which is always welcome execution.
The 411: About Time is not perfect, but it's definitely one of the better films out of this genre. Curtis continues to write strong characters with appealing stories. The actors are all very well cast and incredibly likable. The time travel ideas don't always stick and gel very well, but the story really shines in its more realistic, dramatic, and at times humorous family moments. The cast is great and made up of able thespians rather than big stars, save for McAdams. About Time is a wonderfully able chick flick that even dudes can enjoy.