About Time (12a)
Dir. Richard Curtis, 123mins, UK, 2013
Returning to the director’s chair after 2009’s The Boat that Rocked sunk under the weight of a bloated running time and complete absence of jokes, Blackadder and Dibley writer, Richard Curtis aims squarely for his comfort zone of romantic ensemble comedy, but with a time travelling twist.
Having turned 21, Tim (Domhnal Gleeson) is sat down by his father (Bill Nighy) to have “the talk”. Only this isn’t about the birds and the bees, but the fact that every male member of their family has the ability to travel through time. There is a caveat to the obvious temptations associated with this talent; they can only travel back to events that they’ve experienced, so no killing Hitler or other such butterfly effect style alterations. Tim, and the movie, decides that the focus will be using it to make the course of true love run a lot smoother, despite learning very early on that “all the time travel in the world can’t make someone love you”. The object of his affection is Mary (Rachel McAdams), a wallflower beauty, obsessed with Kate Moss, and who’s dictionary definition kooky.
There’s always a lot of fun to be had with era spanning comedies; the nostalgic soundtrack, the “ancient” dress-code of the early noughties, and the farcical set-pieces associated with a course correction plot. All are prominent in Curtis’s film; he even takes his time to lay down some Looper style rules so as not to fall foul to the multiple nonsensical paradoxes that can often hinder this sub genre. It at least shows a willingness to skew the formula from what is still recognisably predictable boy-meets-girl fare.
And in that department About Time excels, mainly thanks to an utterly charming cast, headed by a star-making turn from Gleeson. A relative unknown, you’ll probably recognise him from the final couple of Harry Potter movies, he has an effortless, self-deprecating charm, but not in that bumbling leading man way so often associated with UK rom-coms. He exudes a confidence that’s grounded in realism, and even manages to negate the usually off-putting expository voice-over device, for once, used here not as a lazy editing tool but a key part of knowing Tim’s character.
McAdams is easy to fall in love with, introduced with a cute stumble, all flowery dresses and shy inhibition, they make an infectious couple, especially during their multiple first meetings; it’s just a shame that she becomes progressively sidelined as the film unfolds. But that does afford more time to Bill Nighy’s wonderful patriarch. If anything, his relationship with Tim is the core of the movie, the real love story, and one which will both repeatedly kick you in the tear ducts and put a mile-wide grin on your face.
The whole film is about the strength of family ties, even those members you don’t really get along with. Point in case being Tom Hollander’s film stealing performance as Harry. A bitter playwright, reluctantly forced to house Tim, and offered the scripts most caustically funny lines, as well as the most poignantly memorable, and wait until you see his little teddy bear.
It does get a little tedious during the middle section, the script trying to find momentum as well as laughs, and at times Curtis employs a ridiculous shaky cam technique. Plus it’s safe to say there are only so many prostitute jokes you can make (count them), although the twist on the best mans speech and a great little reveal during a proposal scene are genuine belly-laughs.
You won’t be performing your own version of time travel by revisiting this in the same way you have with Love Actually, but for a heart starting, and in terms of Gleeson, career starting feel-good romance, About Time is a wonderful piece of feel-good escapism.