About Time (2013)
Director: Richard Curtis
Starring: Domhnall Gleeson (Anna Karenina), Rachel McAdams (Mean Girls, The Notebook, Sherlock Holme), Bill Nighy (Love Actually, The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel)
Genre: Comedy, Romance, Sci-Fi
After a few years wait from director Richard Curtis since his 2009 pirate radio comedy The Boat That Rocked, we have his new offering; the more low-key About Time.
About Time tells the story of Tim (played by Domhnall Gleeson), a typically awkward young man, and his journey through life after he is told by his father (played by Bill Nighy) that he can travel back in time to moments in his past. So far, so Richard Curtis? Well, not really. The time travel introduces a sci-fi element that initially rips into the comfy pillow-lined Curtis movie template, as it is clumsily introduced early on by Bill Nighy. Curtis and Nighy try their best, but ultimately there isn’t an easy way to bring sci-fi into what clearly isn’t a sci-fi. It’s necessary to bear the clumsiness to reach what follows it. The time travel component quickly beds in and becomes a non-issue. In fact, it becomes an intriguing twist to the aforementioned Curtis template, showing audiences that it can be done well, despite previous lesser efforts such as The Time Travellers wife (2009), which incidentally also stars Rachel McAdams.
In About Time, McAdams plays the love interest, who Gleeson attempts to attain by using his newfound time travelling skills. However, the meat of the film actually comes from Gleeson’s relationships with his family members, most notably his father, wonderfully played down by Nighy. McAdams gives her performance sporting ‘nerdy’ glasses and a twee fringe but, amazingly, by not being irritating at the same time. This is a performance a long way above Anne Hathaway’s in a similar role in the disappointing One Day (2012), who shows how easy it is to be excruciatingly annoying while actually trying to be innocent and mousy. Gleeson is also fantastic. He begs the question ‘Hugh Grant who?’ as he charmingly fops his way through the film in typical Richard Curtis posh-boy fashion. He also manages to be arguably much more adept than Grant at grabbing the mellow, dramatic beats in the script by the horns, a trick he’s brought over from turns in the likes of the weightier Anna Karenina (2012).
The film surprisingly and interestingly explores different narrative paths to what one would expect from the set up. There are no lottery winnings, there’s no promiscuity. In fact, there isn’t even a moment where McAdams finds out her partner’s gift and begins to doubt the integrity of their relationship. These are all things that could have been quite easily inserted by Curtis, but instead he’s chosen to go down a far less well-worn path, and ultimately a more intriguing one, about relationships not only with your spouse but also your family. In this case, particularly your father. The moral that emerges is a calmer and more attainable version of ‘seize the day’, one that is practical and focuses on the mundane rather than a stressful obsession with being in the moment and looking at the bigger picture. The film leaves the audience with not only a tear in their eye, but also a (temporary, at least) new outlook on how to approach the day-to-day grind, and ultimately how to enjoy your day a little more.
There is a misconception in the world of Romantic-Comedy (romcom) that these films are ‘just’ romcoms and that they don’t have to be any good to get the tickets sold. This is true, with box office numbers still healthy even for flat efforts like the aforementioned One Day, but About Time shows that this can be done while, amazingly, being good. About Time isn’t uproariously funny per se like some of Curtis’ previous efforts such as Four Weddings and a Funeral, but it arguably doesn’t attempt to be so. There certainly aren’t any massively dud jokes to highlight a failed attempt at a gag-fest. It more than makes up for a little less comedy with the hard-hitting emotion of the last forty minutes, which focuses on moving you to tears rather than laughter. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, unless it’s Bridesmaids that you want. It arguably shouldn’t be scorned to aim beyond the well-defined boundaries of a genre.
A Richard Curtis film demands a few obvious tropes, and with About Time they are all brought to the table, but this time along with so much more, by new cast members, the sci-fi twist, and sentimentality based on deeply rooted love with a father, rather than just the fleeting, lustful newfound sort between lovers so often depicted in romcoms.
Summary: For delivering what fans want from a Curtis outing and with interest, this film demands a strong recommendation to those who love the Love Actuallys and Notting Hills of this world. To those who don’t, this film still demands a solid nudge towards giving Richard Curtis one last try.
Rating: 4.5 out of 5