About Time Not Bad, but Nothing Special
- Friday, November 01, 2013
DVD Release Date: February 4, 2014
Theatrical Release Date: November 1, 2013 limited; November 8 wide.
Rating: R (for strong language and some sexual content)
Genre: Romantic Comedy
Run Time: 123 min
Directors: Richard Curtis
Cast: Domhnall Gleeson, Rachel McAdams, Bill Nighy, Lindsay Duncan, Tom Hollander, Lydia Wilson
There are some films you instantly become passionate about – a great romance especially. You become an evangelist for it. You’re OMGing to everyone you know, "Oh man, you have got to see this movie!" About Time wants to be one of those movies. It’s not. But as someone who found the oft-gushed about Love Actually (the previous romance from director Richard Curtis) to be wildly oversold, take my ambivalence here for what it’s worth – which may not be much to you, and even misleading.
About Time is a near-miss, which is to say that while a lot (and even most) of its pieces are the right ones they don’t magically come together. The time travel twist is clever enough, and while delightful moments emerge from this fantasy the narrative stakes are often diminished by it. But the main problem here is that it all feels like a movie that’s following a formula more than its heart. Or to put it another way: with all its quirky characters and hipster songs, About Time feels like a glossy Hollywood sellout by Wes Anderson.
There are actually two stories going on here. The primary one is a love story, and the adjacent one is a father/son story. It's too bad the focus wasn’t reversed because it’s the familial subplot that resonates. Perhaps at one point it was flipped around, but the choice to elevate its quixotic Date Movie plotting ended up suppressing the generational heart that clearly wanted to emerge.
At the age of 21, Tim (Domhnall Gleeson, one of the Weasley brothers from Harry Potter) learns about a special gift from his dad (Bill Nighy, The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel) that only the males of his family possess: when they become adults, all of them can travel in time. There are some limitations, of course (they can only travel to the past, not the future, and just within their own lives – plus a few other caveats revealed along the way), but the actual travel itself is relatively easy. All it takes is to be in a small dark space like a closet, close your eyes to the moment you wish to go back to, and bing you’re there.
Amazingly this has had a negligible effect on world history (so much for It’s A Wonderful Life, I guess), although on occasion – or, more importantly, when the movie needs a dramatic spike – it can have adverse unintended consequences within the family line itself. But that family line won’t even continue if the gawky and shy Tim never gets a date, a problem the high-concept hook spends its first act rectifying – and too easily at that, especially when its substantiated that no amount of time travel can make someone attracted to you.
For as light and enchanting as much of it is, Tim’s prospects – which are enhanced by multiple repeated meet-cutes (that liberally steal from Groundhog Day’s primary conceit) – virtually fall into his lap, even to the point where after a lifetime of striking out he has not one but two gorgeous women vying for his affections. When it’s clear from the outset that Mary (Rachel McAdams, The Vow) is The One, Tim’s temptation from Charlotte (Margot Robbie, TV’s Pan Am) and her supermodel looks is nothing more than a very-forced diversion. But it does offer a nice test of character in the face of possible time-travel manipulations, so that’s a plus.
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