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About Time (A Movie Review)

Updated: Sep 8, 2020

About Time


Starring Domhnall Gleeson, Rachel McAdams, Bill Nighy, Lydia Wilson, Lindsay Duncan, Tom Hollander, Will Merrick, Richard Cordery, Joshua McGuire, Margot Robbie, Tom Hughes, Clemmie Dugdale, Harry Hadden-Paton. Vanessa Kirby, Mark Healy, Mitchell Mullen and Lisa Eichhorn.

Screenplay by Richard Curtis.

Directed by Richard Curtis.

Distributed by Universal Pictures. 123 minutes. Rated R.

About Time is literally about time: time travel, to be exact. But more to the point it is about love and family and embracing all the moments that are special in life. The time travel aspect, while certainly intriguing, is at service to the storyline, it is not the whole thing. The ability of two characters to go back in time is an interesting wrinkle in some interesting lives, but if none of the people who appear in About Time were able to do this temporal trick, they would still all be worthy of a two hour movie.

It's kind of nice to see a movie where the gimmick does not overwhelm the plot and characters. That is sadly rare in modern filmmaking.

What is also rare is the kind of warm-hearted love of humanity, in all its imperfection, that continues to spring forward from Richard Curtis' imagination. The guy is responsible for writing two of the best romantic comedies ever – Four Weddings and a Funeral and Notting Hill.

About Time is Curtis' third film as a director, following the lovely-if-just-slightly-saccharine Love Actually and the intriguing-if-imperfect change-of-pace story Pirate Radio. Curtis has been saying that About Time may be his last film as a director because directing is such a huge commitment of time that he would rather spend with his family. He says he will continue to write, and he will also not deny the fact that he may very well change his mind about directing somewhere down the line.

If that were sadly to be the case, About Time would be a good place to bow out, it is arguably his best and most personal-feeling film. In fact, when asked in a recent interview with Entertainment Weekly why he would even consider retiring from the director's chair, Curtis explained: "The answer is in the film." And watching About Time, you realize that yes, indeed, it is.

The story is relatively simple. Soon after his 21st birthday, ginger-haired British law student Tim (played by up-and-comer Domhnall Gleeson) is told a shocking family secret from his dad (Curtis regular Bill Nighy): The men in their family can travel in time.

Tim thinks this is crazy talk but tries it and finds that his dad wasn't pulling his leg, the skill was real. In a refreshingly low-tech approach to time travel, if he goes into a small dark place, clenches his fists and concentrates hard on the moment he wants to revisit, he can go back there.

Dad gives him some basic rules: Not forward, just to the past, and just within their own life experiences. You can't go back and do anything too radical because of the butterfly effect ("You can't kill Hitler," dad says sternly.) Using the skill to become rich usually doesn't work. You can't make someone love you who is not interested (though you can potentially nuance the situation to your advantage). Otherwise, time is yours.

Tim – being a lonesome and shy type – automatically decides to use his new power to meet girls. However, when a gorgeous houseguest (Margot Robbie) to the family's gorgeous Cornwall homestead proves his dad's point of the fact that sometimes it just isn't meant to be, Tim moves to London to pursue life as a barrister. He mostly uses his power to undo awkward social faux pas and to spend more time with his loving, eccentric family.

Eventually he does meet the perfect girl, an American publishing worker named Mary, played by Rachel McAdams. Apparently Zooey Deschanel was originally hired for the role of Mary, which would have made the character and the movie significantly different, I would think. He meets Mary cute in a hip London restaurant that is completely dark (apparently it is a real place).

They meet and hit it off in real time, but when he realizes that he was supposed to be somewhere else he is forced to go back in time, inadvertently erasing their meeting from their personal histories. Therefore, he must massage time in order to re-meet the woman of his dreams.

The rest of the film just flits back and forth in time for a period of about a decade while their relationship ripens and they fall in love, move in together, get married and have children. In the meantime, they keep on top of their friends and families and the minutiae of life.

Honestly the first three-quarters of About Time is just delightful, lovely, funny and imaginative. In the last part of the movie, Curtis flirts with his occasional sappy tendencies, turning the story into a slight soap opera about Tim and Mary's extended family and friends: touching on alcoholism, bad relationships and the death of beloved relatives.

The later parts in no way undo the good work of the earlier stuff. The film is still interesting and lovable, it just sort of plateaus and skates its way towards the eventual climax. However, there is no real crime in not being able to keep up with the high level of whimsy and imagination of most of the film, and even the lesser moments in About Time are stronger than you find in most films.

Jay S. Jacobs

Copyright ©2013 All rights reserved. Posted: November 1, 2013.

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