Movie Review – About Time

Absolutely de-lightful Richard Curtis romantic “comedy” film delivers so much more emotion than one might expect from the director of Love Actually. The characters feel real, the scenario is both fantastic and yet grounded (as much as it can be), and Curtis’ focus is on the people in the film rather than the time travel element: this might very well be Curtis’ best film, although I still think Love Actually is the more memorable.


– Summary –

Director :  Richard Curtis
Year Of Release :   2013
Principal Cast :   Domhnall Gleeson, Rachel McAdams, Bill Nighy, Tom Hollander, Lydia Wilson, Lindsay Duncan, Vanessa Kirby, Margot Robbie, Tom Hughes, Will Merrick, Richard Griffiths, Richard E Grant, Richard Cordery.
Approx Running Time :  123 Minutes
Synopsis:  A young man discovers he can travel back in time, and in doing so can affect his future. He meets an American woman, Mary, with whom he uses his power to woo and eventually fall in love with.
What we think :  Absolutely de-lightful Richard Curtis romantic “comedy” film delivers so much more emotion than one might expect from the director of Love Actually. The characters feel real, the scenario is both fantastic and yet grounded (as much as it can be), and Curtis’ focus is on the people in the film rather than the time travel element: this might very well be Curtis’ best film, although I still think Love Actually is the more memorable.


Yeah, I’d go back and triple-f@ck my girlfriend too if I could travel through time….

You want know what the best thing about watching films is? Finding a film that takes you completely, utterly by surprise, transporting you to a place far exceeding your expectations. This kind of thing doesn’t happen all that often (considering how many films I watch, that’s a rather saddening fact!) but when it does, it makes this blogging stuff all worthwhile. About Time is one of those films; it’s surprising, delightful, sad, fabulous, brilliant. Having followed Richard Curtis’ career since his Blackadder and Vicar of Dibley days, I’ve never been convinced that he’s been capable of a decent dramatic work, but I now stand corrected. As a comedy writer, he’s one of the best of British (although, in saying that, I think a lot of his work has been made better by having great casts to work with – Dibley, for one, reads terribly, but the troupe of actors make it shine, while Notting Hill and Love Actually could have been utter tripe had there not been some solid work in front of the camera) but here he gets to flex his considerable dramatic muscle, and comes up trumps. About Time is a romance, a drama, a tragedy, and a time-travel film, all rolled into one with considerable panache; while the marketing campaign on this one never did it justice, allow me to write a few simple words that should change your mind. Watch. This. Film.

Just do what I do son, and you'll have no trouble at all...
Just do what I do son, and you’ll have no trouble at all…

Tim Lake (Domhnall Gleeson, son of legendary Irish actor Brendan Gleeson) lives with his parents Mary (Lindsay Duncan) and James (Bill Nighy), and his sister Kit Kat (Lydia Wilson), who learns an amazing family secret upon turning 21. His father confides in him that all the men in their family, Tim included, have the ability to travel back in time (although not forward), allowing them to change their personal history. Tim tries this, returning the an awkward moment at a recent New Years Eve party, kissing a girl he originally didn’t. Later, Tim moves to London, moving in with his misanthropic Uncle Harry (Tom Hollander), a struggling (and alcoholic) playwright with a bad temper and horrible disposition. While out with one of his work colleagues, Tim meets a young woman, Mary (Rachel McAdams), with whom he forms a bond. Hoping to meet her later, he manages to get her phone number. On returning home, he finds Harry’s premiere (held that night) turned into a disaster, with one of the actors forgetting his lines. Tim returns through time to correct this, only to find that in doing so, he never meets Mary, and never gets her number. After some time travel wrangling, not the least bit helped by his father, Tim eventually woos Mary and they get married. Tim also meets a former love interest, Charlotte (Aussie actress Margot Robbie), and although tempted by this past love, decides he’s better with Mary than without. Eventually, Tim and Mary have children, a factor which causes Tim some considerable angst – apparently, if he returns in time to a period before his children are born, and changes something, his children can change (such as his daughter into a son, for example) – which means his out-of-control sister Kit Kat must face her demons without his assistance. Then, a major tragedy unfolds within the family, again testing Tim’s resolve to use his powers for personal gain.

Damn, I thought this was a sequel to my film with Eric Bana....
Damn, I thought this was a sequel to my film with Eric Bana….

About Time is one of those films that isn’t exactly what you thought it would be going in. Yes, the “written and directed by Richard Curtis” label on the poster might indicate some kind of facile romantic comedy, or at the very least a chuckle-worthy sitcom-styled flick about a guy and a girl getting together, but this a film with so much more to offer. With its unique central conceit about a man able to travel back within his personal history, you might expect something a whole lot bawdier or rampant with male-fantasy (after all, Notting Hill was essentially a fantasy about an ordinary man obtaining the unattainable), but it turns out to be quite the opposite. It’s a charming, lovely romantic drama, with less emphasis on comedy (oh, there’s some decent laughs through it, sure) and a surprisingly moving closing half that goes in a direction I wasn’t expecting. Led by Domhnall Gleeson, Rachel McAdams and a fabulous Bill Nighy, About Time is less about time, and more about what people choose to do with it.

Oh, an awkward moment indeed....
Oh, an awkward moment indeed….

Richard Curtis’ script is solid stuff: there’s not a line or a moment in this film that isn’t worthwhile, or doesn’t add something to the story overall. Narrated in part by Gleeson’s Tim, the film feels like some kind of “dear diary” piece that, although sounding contrived, is rather moving as a living life history. The film traverses around 8 or 9 years of Tim’s life (the film never stipulates a time-frame, although the growth of Tim and Mary’s daughter indicates at least six or seven years on its own) as he moves out of home and into a job, and then into a relationship with the “plain Jane” Mary. Curtis is careful not to preempt our prejudices with Tim and Mary; both are designed as “normal” people who fall in love, and not typically square-jawed movie-star types who strain human credulity to breaking point. It’s this fresh-breath story that makes About Time more accessible, as if this could happen to you or I, and going one step further, Curtis doesn’t focus on the time travel as the primary function of the film to entertain. Rather, Curtis uses the time travel element as a pivot on which the story evolves, rather than revolves, making Tim and Mary’s relationship, and their relationship with Tim’s family and friends, the central driver of the narrative.

Just chillin' by the beach in England....
Just chillin’ by the beach in England….

Another major positive to come from About Time is the debut of Domhnall Gleeson in a major lead role – his previous film credits include True Grit, the final two Harry Potter films (as Bill Weasley) and Dredd, among others – and I think this is his breakout role. As Tim, Gleeson handles the demands of the comedy/drama style with ease, giving the material a winsome, stuttering charm that befits the role, while Rachel McAdams (who must now look at script involving time travel with a bit of hesitation, after this and The Time Traveller’s Wife!)  delivers a winning portrayal of Mary that is neither glamorous or overly demanding. The supporting cast, especially Bill Nighy and the always-great Tom Hollander, are excellent in their roles of Tim’s father and uncle respectively, with Nighy providing much of the story’s emotional resonance late in the piece, as a major traumatic event occurs to his character. Lydia Wilson plays this films’ “whacky sister” after Curtis alum Emma Chambers did a similar job in Notting Hill, although Kit Kat is more internally damaged than Chambers’ dimwitted Honey ever was. Watch also for Aussie actress Margot Robbie as the sexy (but unattainable!) Charlotte, who Tim fancies but never… “gets”… if you take my meaning. Robbie also appeared in 2013’s The Wolf Of Wall Street, so between that role and this, it appears she’s on her way up….

You know what they say.... It's not the size of the bear that matters....
You know what they say…. It’s not the size of the bear that matters….

About Time isn’t an obviously manipulative film. Sure, there are glaring plot inconsistencies in the time travel stuff, and contrived genre boundaries that seem to move depending on where the plot needs to go, but if you’re willing to forget about your Doctor Who knowledge for a bit, and admit About Time is all “timey wimey” and just go with it, you’ll have a good time. Your ability to do this will directly affect your appreciation of the film. In reality, though, About Time doesn’t depend on time travel to get you hooked, rather Curtis’ use of the characters, and Tim’s journey through his powers (and their limits) that make us empathetic, if not sympathetic, to what’s going on. There’s an aura of familiarity with the narrative in that the film doesn’t just linger on the wooing and courtship between Tim and Mary, but their married life as well – this isn’t your typical rom-com zany-antic laff-fest. This is a nuanced, layered film that delivers some warmth, some comfort, and some genuine emotional weight to its textured facade. The film is rather long – at a little over 2 hours – which will stretch the buttock-comfort level of most viewers, and I feel that there are probably one or two subplots that could have been trimmed (or removed altogether – such as Tim’s salvaging of Harry’s unfortunately stage-struck play) to keep it a lot tighter, but I found the luxurious pacing to work for the story rather than against it. Other may disagree, but I think the story needed the added length to really allow us to get into these characters and their lives.

One night and it's all gone to hell...
One night and it’s all gone to hell…

While it’s no instant classic, like Curtis’ seasonal perennial Love Actually, About Time will probably become a go-to film for those who believe that love is out of reach. Or, for those wanting an ever so subtle romance mixed with the sci-fi of time travel. McAdam’s shines in a role of limited depth, Gleeson brings his best “doing a young Hugh Grant” routine, and Nighy steals every scene he’s in (again); Richard Curtis’ About Time is probably his most accomplished film to-date (if not his best) and delivers lumps of romantic triumph around a rather cool central conceit that works oh-so-well in the best British fashion. About Time is excellent.





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4 thoughts on “Movie Review – About Time

  1. Fuck yes. The film is pure brilliance at every turn. Love your mentioning of the script's strength as I never felt it faded or anything. And yes, Domhall needs to be in more. I wish this film (and him) got more attention. Perfection.
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