The posters and trailers for About Time prominently tout that it is from “the creators of Love Actually, Notting Hill, and Four Weddings and a Funeral.” While About Time is curiously missing an appearance by Hugh Grant, the film is absolutely deserving of being listed as an equal among those films. It is a warm and heartfelt film that feels incredibly “Romantic” in every sense of the word.
About Time stars Domhnall Gleeson, who American audiences know as Bill Weasley from the final two Harry Potter films, but not much else. Gleeson, son of the great Irish actor, Brendan Gleeson, plays Tim, a name curiously similar to the principle word in the title, “Time.” Thus, the movie is as much about Tim as it is about “time.” On his 21st birthday, Tim is given the odd and unbelievable news from his father (Bill Nighy) that the men in his family have the ability to travel through time. For a romantic comedy, it is surprising to see a plot resting so firmly on such an absurd and fantastic premise. Yet, one must only look back 20 years to a little film called Groundhog Day, perhaps the greatest modern romantic comedy ever made, that succeeds due to a bizarre and unexplainable time rift that allows the film’s message to flourish and evolve! About Time clearly tips its hat to the Harold Ramis classic in several humorous scenes where Tim bounces off to try and undo some foolishly embarrassing moments.
But About Time is not at all subjugated by its premise. Tim’s father asks him what he plans to do with his new gift, and the film is quite ideal in its treatment of such a power. Tim decides that he will use it for love. Thus, Tim moves out of his parents’ house and strikes out for London where he will practice law and search for love. He finds it in Mary (Rachel McAdams), an American publishing house editor working in London. It is here that the movie firmly kicks into romantic gear. While it successfully emphasizes the passion, beauty, and emotion of young love, the time travel element allows the film to search deeper into modern romanticism as Tim is able to slow down, explore the natural beauty of the world, experience the trials of the mind, free himself from the corrupting forces of society, and most importantly – discover how to make the most out of life.
Director, Richard Curtis has made a beautiful film with About Time. Elegant, cozy country-side scenes are balanced with busy but scenic city-scapes. Curtis gives London the Paris treatment, making it look far more inviting and relatable than other films have in the past. But like all romantic comedies, the true magic lies in the chemistry of its leads. Gleeson and McAdams are easy to root for, and their relationship is not hokey, nor does the film commit the cardinal sin of having Tim use his powers to manipulate Mary. Instead, his power is used to create opportunities, but it is Tim that must make the most of them. A fine example lies in the scene where Tim and Rachel first meet by happenstance. Ironically this first meeting is in a restaurant called Dans Le Noir, a restaurant where diners sit in total darkness, an immersive experience that emphasizes the other senses and provides a clever way for Tim and Rachel to build the foundation for their relationship. Soon, a mistake made by Tim during time travel causes this first meeting to be forgotten leading Tim to find a way to create a new opportunity to make an impression on Mary. Now, that is not to say that Tim does not play “puppet-master” with other people’s lives, which is a bit off-putting. Nonetheless, these minor valleys are certainly not enough to degrade the film’s peaks.
The sentimentality of the film is authentic and while occasionally heavy-handed, it is quite effective. The Tim and Mary story is central to the film, but Curtis as writer and director makes sure to develop the father-son relationship between Tim and his Dad. It is in this relationship where most of the “heartstrings” are continually tugged upon. Nighy’s inclusion in the story adds warmth but also some complexity as he too can travel through time. The bond between the men, the shared experiences, and the lessons learned all work to make the film about more than just a love story.
About Time is a pleasing and successful film that does not exploit its premise or undermine its characters. Fans of romantic comedies (especially those of Curtis’s) will be satisfied and touched by this film. B+
About Time opens on November 8th, and has a running time of 2 hours and 3 minutes. It is a beautiful and well-made film that would make an excellent date-night option in a fall movie season full of thrillers, action, and suspense. It also accomplishes the dual task of making us forget about the other far more disappointing Rachel McAdams time travel romance, The Time Traveler’s Wife.