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Review: About Time (2013)

About Time (2013)

Directed by: Richard Curtis

Premise: A young man discovers that he and the other men in his family can travel though time. He uses this ability to correct moments of social awkwardness and seduce the love of his life.

What Works: About Time was written and directed by Richard Curtis, the filmmaker behind movies such as Love Actually and Pirate Radio, and like those films About Time is a very sweet picture. Curtis is a romantic but he also has a pleasant sense of humor and imbues his films with a self-awareness that tempers his idealism. About Time has been marketed as a stupid romantic comedy (or worse, a repeat of the dreadful The Time Traveler’s Wife) but this is a much better film than that. The first portion of About Time chronicles the main character wooing the woman of his dreams (Rachel McAdams). This portion of the film plays like a typical romantic comedy. But after the requisite clichés, About Time transcends the romantic comedy mold as the main character marries, has a family, and encounters other challenges of growing up. When it gets beyond its initial trappings, About Time demonstrates intelligence, insight, and genuine sensitivity and like Richard Curtis’ other films it gets at some real human experiences. The second half of the film goes to some unexpected places as the main character deals with complicated life issues such as a troubled sibling and the stress of parenthood. The film’s successes are due to its witty script and the contributions by the lead actors. About Time is led by actor Domhnall Gleeson as an awkward but bright young man; he is an unusual choice of an actor for a romantic lead but his ordinariness is a lot of what makes the role work and Gleeson carries himself with intelligence and delivers his lines with great timing and a lot of wit. Although the picture is framed as a love story between Gleeson’s character and his wife, the true central relationship of About Time is between the main character and his father, played by Bill Nighy. Family relationships have been a recurrent theme in Richard Curtis’ work and the father-son moments of About Time land with a great deal of impact.

What Doesn’t: The first portion of About Time plays like a typical romantic comedy and it has many of the obnoxious trappings of those kinds of stories, including the leading man manipulating the love of his life into falling for him. This portion of the film is clumsy and even a little sexist but the picture gives way to better and more interesting material in its second half. Like a lot of time travel movies the conceit of About Time doesn’t hold up to much scrutiny. For instance, the film establishes rules for time travel in which the main character can only go backwards in time but once in the past he is able to return to the present when his goal is accomplished. These kinds of inconsistencies are par for the course in time travel narratives but About Time is able to overcome them because the movie is involving enough that these problems don’t occur to the viewer while watching it. It also helps that in the early scenes in which the film lays out its time travel rules the dialogue makes some knowing nods to the audience to just relax and not overthink it. Ultimately, gimmicks like time travel are used in order to make commentary about other, much more real, aspects of human life. And that may be the film’s biggest weakness. There isn’t much in About Time that is especially challenging or insightful and as the movie goes on the time travel aspect of it is less and less important. This isn’t an especially deep movie and About Time doesn’t do much more than reinforce the cliché about the importance of pausing to smell the roses. The moral is made earnestly but there isn’t much more to it than that.

Bottom Line: About Time is a pleasant little film. It isn’t the kind of picture that’s going to change anyone’s life but it does pass as a “comfort movie,” the kind of picture that viewers watch on a rainy afternoon with a pint of ice cream. 

Episode: #467 (November 24, 2013)