You probably haven’t heard too much about About Time, and if you have you may have passed it off as another romantic comedy and simply forgotten about it. Hell, we’ve done a grand total of one post on the film and I’m not about to admit I didn’t think of it again after writing it. It looked forgettable.
Having now seen the film I can tell you it is anything but that. It’s not what your expecting and it’s all the better for it. About Time is the answer to a cynical Hollywood. A relentlessly hopeful film about love, family and, oddly, time travel from the great Richard Curtis (Love Actually, Knotting Hill). In a holiday season shoved full of disingenuous award grabs About Time is the perfect sort of film to remind you to have fun at the theater.
Director: Richard Curtis
Release Date: November 1, 2013
The premise of About Time is sublimely ridiculous. On his 21st birthday Tim (Domhnall Gleeson) finds out from his father (Bill Nighy) that time travel is hereditary in the males in his family. If he stands in a dark space, closes his eyes and thinks about the time he wants to travel to in the past he’ll appear there. He can then hop back to his current time by doing the same or simply live his life out from there on. Warned not to use his power to for money he decides instead he’ll use it to find love. He finds that love eventually in Mary (Rachel McAdams), keeping his time travel a secret the entire time.
For any other movie you’d expect the plot to flow out into some sort of time traveling catastrophe where Mary finds out Tim has been mucking with her life and everything starts falling apart until Tim finds the perfect way to save everything. About Time isn’t about time travel, though. It’s wonderfully not about it, and treats Tim’s ability to time travel in the most insanely naive way to simply tell a story about love, and not the love you’re expecting. This really isn’t a film about Mary and Tim, it’s about Tim and his Dad. It’s about living life to its fullest, and loving those that we get to be with. It’s innocence about what a man would do if he could time travel is so crushingly honest that you don’t roll your eyes at the fact that Tim never goes back in time for personal gain, but instead nod your head that that’s exactly how we should all treat the ability to time travel.
About halfway through the movie Tim is confronted with the chance to hook up with the girl of his dreams, and he could full well do it and then travel back in time and never have to worry about getting busted. This isn’t that movie, though, and it’s at this moment that you realize you’re not watching a movie about a relationship, but a movie about a life. As the rest of the film unwinds the focus shifts to Tim and his Dad and they’re absolutely wonderful relationship. The main conflict in the film is not a conflict at all, but simply the fact that eventually Tim must stop traveling back in time to see his father. It leads to some of the most honest and heart wrenching moments I’ve seen in the theater all year, and it’s all because About Time refuses to be cynical in the best way possible.
Having Bill Nighy play the best father in the world and Domhnall Gleeson, who needs to be in more movies, counter him perfectly elevates the father/son relationship even further. The two actors are tailored made for their roles, and I’m not sure there is a more innocent face than Gleeson’s. McAdams is gorgeous as always, but her character isn’t nearly focused on enough to pull out anything that needs to be commented on. It’s truly a two man show here.
What’s even more stunning about the film is how wonderfully it’s shot. I would have never called Curtis a technically challenging director before this, but this movie isn’t just gorgeous, it’s built fantastically. It plays with time wonderfully, and in a brilliant instance, cheesy montages are actually artistically relevant as they bring us into Tim’s time hopping world. Maybe I should have expected it since Curtis is one of the few directors to successfully make an ensemble rom-com work, but it was still surprising just how cleverly directed the movie was.
That’s not to say the film doesn’t trip into its own problems. In a movie playing this innocent about love and life you do run into moments of too much saccharine sweetness. At times it can get tangled in it’s own plot as well, as many time travel films do. It also falls into so many tropes that you wonder how it ever gets out of them (hilarious rainy wedding, romance on a beach, awkward first date). Still, it wears its romance and its sleeve and it devalues the time travel to a plot point, not the film’s themes, making you forget about the fact that you’re watching the umpteenth, soft lit love message of the film.
By imbuing the entire film with the kind of naivety that you’d expect to find in a child who idolizes his father About Time feels honest. It almost ignores its central time travel concept and instead focuses on an unbridled joy in love. Can that get too sweet and sugary? Of course, but sometimes a dose of sweet and sugary is perfectly welcome.