REVIEW: About Time [2013]

Score: 8/10 | ★ ★ ★


Rating: R | Runtime: 123 minutes | Release Date: September 4th, 2013 (UK)
Studio: Universal Pictures
Director(s): Richard Curtis
Writer(s): Richard Curtis

“Did you have trouble parking?”

It will be a shame if rumors stating About Time is Richard Curtis’ last film as director are true because he’s had fantastic success with the vocation. He’ll remain in the industry either way being that he’s equally proficient with screenplays (War House and Notting Hill) and TV (“Black Adder” and “Mr. Bean”), but one has to wonder whether Love Actually or The Boat That Rocked would have been as memorable were he not at the helm. You could easily say “yes” due to the common slight that romantic comedies aren’t rocket science and thus can come together with anyone possessed by a modicum of talent, but you can’t deny he’s personally brought three of his best to life. Well, I guess you can since it’s a subjective prospect. I, however, will not.

About Time is admittedly the weakest of Curtis’ trio, but not by much. We could talk all day about plot holes and unexplained rule breaking where its use of time travel is concerned, but it would only be a waste of breath considering the film’s overall message and theme deals with discovering how to live without the gimmick. While Tim (Domhnall Gleeson), his father (Bill Nighy), and the male ancestors on that side of the family possess(ed) the ability to go into a darkened room, clench their fists, and transport back along their timeline to rewrite personal histories, the movie is less about the ramifications of such sci-fi flights of fancy than why its characters look to use such power. It’s about their realization that we sometimes must fall without a safety net if we’re ever to rise again.

So ignore the question of whether they can bring a female back with them by holding her hand during the phenomenon. Accept they can return to a changed present after righting whatever wrong they committed because Nighy explicitly states that “travel to the future” is impossible, not “forward travel”. Honestly, if you leave the film scratching your head because you’re not sure a fictional ability like time travel was utilized realistically and/or within the fictional constraints posited, you’ve missed the point. As Gleeson’s Tim declares upon discovering his newfound ability at twenty-one, it was “always going to be about love”. Whether or not he’s able to manipulate events so that he may find a girlfriend, spend extra time with Dad, or save his sister’s life is moot. It’s his desire to do those things that matter.

Told via voiceover narration, we watch Tim’s awkward young man grow into a loving father and husband possessed by a miraculous gift to understand mortality and the preciousness each day holds. There are girls that got away (Margot Robbie’s Charlotte), one’s he’d need to meet more than twice to get right (Rachel McAdams’ Mary), and an emotionally damaged, effervescent sister he’d do anything to protect (Lydia Wilson’s Kit Kat). There’s a father who uses time travel to read more, a simple yet sweet uncle (Richard Cordery’s Desmond) he couldn’t live without, and an ill-tempered playwright who is more comic relief than crucial cog to the story (Tom Hollander) yet no less important. Tim is surrounded by love, mediocrity, wonder, success, and failure. And he’d find it all again exactly the same way in a heartbeat (and sometimes does).

Despite what the trailers may portend, the love Tim uses his ability to hold onto isn’t only that of the woman he’d move mountains for. He’ll lose Mary while learning about the butterfly effect of his actions; make a fool of himself in front of her multiple times; and risk everything to ensure she’s given a chance to see him for who he is, but that romance is only one facet to his tale. There is also Kit Kat’s brimming life force being sapped away by insecurity, a horrible boyfriend, and a drinking problem—someone who teaches him how to truly love without gimmicks or fabricated second chances. His relationship with her proves he also has the power to change things without his secret and how such a thing may be his most rewarding discovery yet.

In the end, though, the love standing beneath each action and impulse is the one with his father. Nighy instills a sense of compassion and humor in the character to become the mold with which Tim must strive. The actor has been a sort of muse for Curtis, providing his unparalleled heart and comedic grace in much of his work. He’s the man our lead aspires to make proud and the only person who understands what he’s experiencing. Look at the movie as an allegory for this relationship—perhaps even as a thinly-veiled, fantastical representation of the filmmaker’s own private father/son or son/father dynamic—and see their power as a manifestation of the advice every boy hopes to receive and every man to give. It’s as much a tale about being a parent as it is a helpless romantic.

Curtis has written a ton of potential scene-stealers for actors like Joshua McGuire and Will Merrick to ham up, Wilson and Cordery to infuse heart-wrenching innocence, and two familiar faces to stage one last Withnail and I reunion. But it’s his leading trio who shine brightest and whole as real people to laugh with and cry. Gleeson’s at the middle juggling emotions as self-esteem rises and falls—an everyman working through adulthood’s trials and tribulations just like us—while McAdams is delightful as his partner on the journey and wonderful complement to Nighy as those closest to his heart. Time passes, lives are lost, more are born, and the cycle of continues in perpetuity. If we live without regrets or what-ifs, memory can serve as the only time traveling we’ll ever need of the love we’d never change.


photography:
[1] Mary (RACHEL MCADAMS) and Tim (DOMHNALL GLEESON) in “About Time”, the new comedy about love and time travel from writer/director Richard Curtis, which discovers that, in the end, making the most of life may not need time travel at all. Photo Credit: Murray Close Copyright: © 2013 Universal Studios. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.
[2] (L to R) Tim (DOMHNALL GLEESON) and Tim’s Dad (Bill Nighy) in “About Time”, the new comedy about love and time travel from writer/director Richard Curtis, which discovers that, in the end, making the most of life may not need time travel at all. Photo Credit: Murray Close Copyright: © 2013 Universal Studios. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.
[3] TOM HOLLANDER as Harry in “About Time”, the new comedy about love and time travel from writer/director Richard Curtis, which discovers that, in the end, making the most of life may not need time travel at all. Photo Credit: Murray Close Copyright: © 2013 Universal Studios. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

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