Starring: Domhnall Gleeson, Rachel McAdams, Bill Nighy, Lydia Wilson, Tom Hollander, Lindsay Duncan
Synopsis: Tim (Gleeson), a quiet, timid 21 year-old lives a mundane life with the notable lack of a girlfriend. Things begin to take shape once his father (Nighy) reveals the family men are able to travel through time. Tim quickly uses his inherited power to discover more about life and, most importantly, to find love.
Richard Curtis has long since departed from snappy satire in the form of Not the Nine O’Clock News and Blackadder; now associated with strings of soppy romantic comedies. Yet, whilst his seminal television work feels like a distant, beloved memory for some, there are others more than happy with his Four Weddings, Notting Hills and Love Actuallys. He has an honest and indefatigable passion for the theme of love that, for the ones who pine to see and feel it, makes for some entertaining films. About Time, his latest rumination on love – with added time travel to mix it up a bit – is quite wonderful. Whatever flaws the film holds are, in the end, nearly forgotten thanks to Gleeson, McAdams and Nighy and a touching exploration of a father/son relationship.
Domhnall Gleeson as the protagonist Tim makes a strong debut in this genre – much like Hugh Grant did way back in 1994 with Four Weddings and a Funeral. Without a hint of his thick Dublin accent, Gleeson embodies the bumbling, shy Brit character perfectly. An everyman in his appearance and personality, he quickly establishes a familiarity with the audience. The same can be said for the film’s opening – a brief introduction of the Lake family. Here Gleeson and Curtis’ script portray the normality that makes the English rom-coms so accessible from the get-go.
With the pleasant English countryside and genial family members spotlighted the film then moves on to its hidden card in its cuff – the main character’s power to travel through time. Time travel has been continually tricky to pull off effectively in film and television and for About Time the errors and ellipsis still remain. However, Curtis has ignored some rules and added some of his own – the apparent lack of the Butterfly Effect but with certain restrictions concerning genetics. As Tim so often states, his abilities are often left by the way side in favour of living in life’s moments. About Time merely uses the time travel element to highlight the importance of “now”. When Tim flashes back and forth through his life it’s generally interesting and enjoyable but most appealing is his damnation of re-living events and focusing on the unknown future and a second-by-second existence.
With a strong core message the film is genuinely uplifting. Its other agreeable quality is the band of main actors. Gleeson is, as mentioned, a great screen presence with an innate charm and wit (aided by Curtis’ own pen). To know nothing about Gleeson and McAdams and to see only them holding hands would be tough to imagine; not that certain people can’t be matched but they do appear leagues apart. Original casting had Zooey Deschanel as his love interest – a choice that whilst agreeable would not hold a candle to Rachel McAdams. McAdams is one of the most divine women of contemporary cinema – down-to-earth and gorgeous. Nevertheless, personality and voice blend tremendously together and there is never a moment where you question their pairing. Third billing goes to Nighy as Tim’s father. He initiates the narrative by telling Tim about his gift – a scene that should be laughable and unbelievable neatly written and acted. Nighy is Curtis' lucky rabbit's foot, continually adding worth to each film he's written into. Whereas you'd expect McAdams to generate the film's emotion, it's actually Nighy who earns that role, brilliantly molding the film from behind the curtain more or less.
As much as McAdams lights up the screen, the film shifts from her focus to that of Nighy and Lydia Wilson’s tragic sister. This switch happens two thirds of the way through, turning the film from a romantic comedy into a heartfelt drama. Some may dislike the jarring change though they may be the ones not completely invested in the humanity of the story. Tim and his father share a bond commonly seen in families, with the added time travel skill that draws them closer together; sharing that much they have a beautifully strong relationship. By the end when time travel starts to prove difficult Tim spends more time with his knowledgeable Dad, there is a narrative crux that triumphantly brings tears to the audiences’ eyes*.
The beauty of family, life and love are profoundly explored in some of About Time’s runtime. The fun time travelling element may not be used as regularly in some viewers’ opinions though to see beyond that is the film’s most precious attribute. It’s heart-warming and smooshy, sure, but it’s also poignant and sincere. Most definitely the year’s best romantic comedy and (if it’s to be believed) a delightful directorial sign-off for Curtis.
*There weren’t many dry eyes in the screening I went to
Also posted on LiveForFilms