dir. Richard Curtis
Release Date: Nov 01, 13
There’s something wrong at the center of Richard Curtis’ About Time, and it becomes clear about an hour into the film, when you realize that Tim (Domhnall Gleeson) has no plans to tell his beloved Mary (Rachel McAdams) about his ability to travel through time and reverse engineer his own life. Shortly after turning 21, Tim is made aware of this gift by his father (Bill Nighy), a gift afforded to all the males in their family. All Tim has to do is go into a dark, secluded place, close his eyes, tighten his fists, and focus on the moment to which he wants to return. And Tim knows exactly how he plans to use the gift: “For me, it was always going to be about love.”
However, what is love if it’s born from endlessly rehearsed perfection, lacking in any kind of spontaneity or growing pains or awkwardness or stumbling passion? This is the question that, if reflected upon even briefly, pretty much ruins one’s ability to enjoy About Time as even the sort of saccharine fluff that Curtis has made his reputation upon. (That, and the matter of this being a movie where a quote from Baz Luhrmann’s novelty one-hit wonder “Everybody’s Free To Wear Sunscreen” is used for philosophical heft with a totally straight face.) It’s hard to detach from these questions, because a movie about time travel readily invites the contemplation of these ideas. Doubly so when it’s a movie about a young man who desperately wants to be loved so much that he can, essentially, make a woman love him.
That ethic follows Tim throughout the whole film. When his sister gets into an abusive relationship, he’s able to take her back to redeem herself regardless of letting her make her own life choices. (He also avails her of his ability, but never his wife. Come on.) When his father eventually has to face his own mortality, as we all do whether or not we can time travel, Tim worries about moving on with his own life, willing to drop everything to make sure that the butterfly effect won’t stop him from being able to visit his dad. Nighy is the MVP here, lending his exchanges with his son both a sense of wit and an emotional gravity that much of the rest of the film misses. The whole thing feels perfunctory and rushed, and that nothing has any particular consequence until the final 10-15 minutes, and barely even then, hardly helps.
Gleeson is a charming enough lead, unfortunately saddled with a rather unlikable character arc but nevertheless able to offer Tim a stumbling charm that keeps the film watchable in its ickier moments. McAdams offers yet another variation on the quirky, sexually pneumatic fantasy girl that she’s been playing for years, but because of the conceit at the center of the movie, she ultimately ends up a marginal player in her own life’s story. So does everybody else, though. Friends come and go, as do jobs and life events and family, and none of it rates because it’s only as important as Tim values it as being. That’s the thing with About Time: it’s not that everything outside of the selfish narcissism at the core is particularly bad, it’s just that the aforementioned drags anything good down with it.