2013, R, 123 mins.
2013, R, 123 mins.
Rachel McAdams as Mary / Bill Nighy as Tim's father / Domhnall Gleeson as Tim / Lee Asquith-Coe as Bin Man / Tom Hollander as Harry / Margot Robbie as Charlotte / Lisa Eichhorn as Mary's Mum
Written and directed by Richard Curtis
Curtis’ ABOUT TIME is kind of a two-for-the-price-of-one movie.
It’s both a romantic comedy and a science fiction inspired time
travel drama, and even though the marriage of the two is bold to say the
least, it’s pretty clear that ABOUT TIME emerges – as the film
progresses – as a superior romcom and just a so-so fantasy.
The characters and performances stand out the most part, but even lay
fans of science fiction may scratch their heads a bit too much throughout
the story and question the internal logic of its temporal trekking main
character. Like most films
that involve time travel, you’re either willing to accept the story’s more
glaring paradoxes…or you’re not.
I leaned more heavily towards the former in ABOUT TIME, mostly
because the film’s other inherent charms won me over.
Curtis’ strengths reside with writing really good ensemble pictures
that allow the performers to really shine through, and I have been an
unapologetic sucker for most of his films (like his 1994 scripted FOUR
WEDDINGS AND A FUNERAL and his 2003 directorial debut in LOVE ACTUALLY,
still required Christmas viewing every year in my home).
He manages to find a way to bridge the gap between laughs and
pathos in his films with a real keen eye, which helps allow even a film
like ABOUT TIME – with its really out-there premise – to still remain
dramatically genuine and intimate. We
are drawn into the film not because of the fantastical notion that its
main character can travel back and forth in time and correct social mistakes
that he has made; instead, we find ourselves immersed in the film because of the
journey of the characters and the surprisingly spot-on commentary the
script makes about the nature of spousal and father/son relationships.
Tim (Domhall Gleeson) is a down-on-his luck Brit that manages to really
fail at the art of attracting women.
In the opening scenes of the film we see him nervously fidgeting
his way through a New Year’s Eve party, and when the clock strikes
midnight a young girl clearly expresses – albeit non-verbally – a
desire for him to kiss her. Well,
he botches the opportunity. If
only he had a manner of reliving the encounter and setting things
straight. Well, Tim’s
father (Curtis regular Bill Nighy, as wonderfully spry as ever here)
reveals to Tim a family secret that all of the men gain once they turn 21: they can
travel through time.
Not only that, but it’s easy!
All Tim has to do is go into a dark and secluded area, close his
eyes, clench his fists, and – BOOM! – he’s back in the past.
clearly thinks his dear ol’ dad has a screw loose, but when he humors
him and attempts his first journey into the past, he is astounded by the fact
that it does indeed work. However,
Tim’s father does reveal that there are, of course, several limitations
to time travel. Beyond not being able to “Kill Hitler or shag Joan of
Arc,” Tim can only travel backward during his own lifetime (no traveling
into the future allowed). Once
Tim begins to learn the ins and outs of his new fangled powers, he decides
to put them to the test and, yup, try to score a perfect girlfriend.
His first meet-cute with a beautiful blonde bombshell named
Charlotte (Margot Robbie) is anything but, seeing as he awkwardly uses
time travel to make his courtship of her more complicated.
Learning from these mistakes, he then sets his sights on Mary
(Rachel McAdams, as luminous and likeable as she’s ever been) and after
three botched attempts they both manage to begin dating, then get married,
and later have children. Alas, as life’s complications begin to rear
their ugly heads, Tim finds himself using time travel even more...and with many
unintentional side effects.
it’s the cast of ABOUT TIME and the wonderfully paired Gleeson and
McAdams that makes the film such a pleasure to sit through.
Gleeson himself, despite not really being handsome leading man
material, gets considerable mileage out of his gawky charisma, which
makes him more compelling as a screen presence.
McAdams – her third film playing a time traveler's wife (see THE
TIME TRAVELER'S WIFE and MIDNIGHT
IN PARIS) can play infectiously warm hearted, beautiful, and
spirited women in her sleep, and beyond her radiant glow and thousand watt
smile she manages to have a natural and unforced chemistry with Gleeson
that serves the film well. You
want to see this couple together and you want to see their happiness
through to the end, which is what all great romcoms should aspire to.
The rest of the cast is reliably strong, like Tom Hollander playing
Tim’s landlord that just happens to be one of the most
hysterically anti-social playwrights in the history of movies.
And Bill Nighy lends a level of class to just about any film he
occupies, even though I wished the film had more of him.
the big distracting elephant in the room, so to speak, for this film is
its time travel premise, and part of the problem here is that it
never really establishes a firm set of rules to adhere to. Tim’s dad does offer up
a set of core time travel fundamentals early on, but the screenplay seems
to have a peculiar knack for either ignoring them altogether or just
simply adding on new rules whenever its convenient.
When Tim is presented with a rather odd or, at times, emotionally
heartbreaking calamity that requires him to fix it via his gift, Curtis’
screenplay manages to provide just the right bit of expositional dialogue
or handy verbal advice from the father that sometimes contradicts the laws
the were introduced early on. When the film careens towards its third act and Tim’s life
is dealt with a truly soul crushing blow, he is able to use time travel
that, even under modest scrutiny, does not seem to adhere to the film’s
own internal logic about using it.
though, if you willing to forgive and/or turn a blind eye to the film’s
wonky time travel fundamentals, then ABOUT TIME has its share of many
sublime moments. I especially loved a sequence when Tim goes back in time and
tries to ensure that one of the actor in his landlord’s play does
not blank out on stage in front of a live audience…but Tim amusingly makes a
key blunder along the way. Then
there is a truly memorable scene – initially not involving time travel
at all – where Tim and Charlotte have there first meeting…in total
darkness…at a restaurant that is served by blind waiters.
The entire moment is wonderful as it allows for the dialogue
exchanges between McAdams and Gleeson sell the scene and not our ability to
visibly see the actors interact.
ABOUT TIME also has many legitimate things to say about the nature of best intentions versus the unexpected outcomes of such noble-minded intentions. It also reflects on how time becomes such a precious commodity when we often have no control over it. We see Tim journey back and forth in his own lifetime to build a meaningful life and loving marriage with Charlotte, but then the film slyly segues into becoming a touching tribute to father/son ties. Even when ABOUT TIME does not seem to stick to its own pre-established set of rules regarding its time travel premise, I simply found myself so engaged and ultimately won over by the performances that, in the end, I didn’t really care all that much. Richard Curtis may not have the faculty for fully harnessing this film’s sci-fi trappings, but he unquestionably knows how to write agreeably delightful characters for us to root for and cling to.