About Time (2013) / Comedy-Fantasy

MPAA Rated: R for language and some sexual content
Running Time: 123 min.

Cast: Domhnall Gleeson, Rachel McAdams, Bill Nighy, Lydia Wilson, Lindsay Duncan, Richard Cordery, Joshua McGuire, Tom Hollander, Margot Robbie, Will Merrick, Vanessa Kirby
Small role: Richard Griffiths
Director: Richard Curtis
Screenplay: Richard Curtis

Review published November 2, 2013

Domhnall Gleeson (Anna Karenina, Dredd) stars as a young London lawyer named Tim Lake, whose recent heart-to-heart birthday chat with his usually undemonstrative father (Nighy, Total Recall) reveals an astonishing secret.  It seems that men in their family line have the uncanny ability to travel backward in time to any moment they've previously experienced, and their actions can change their present. 

After trying it for himself to realize it's all true, Tim decides that the one thing that his life is missing is love.  He aims to use his newly realized powers to overcome his awkwardness and attempt to woo the lady he finds most fetching until he gets her.  That mystery woman ends up being an equally introverted but kind American woman named Mary (McAdams, Sherlock Holmes), of whom he decides to romance -- that is until he goes back in time and inadvertently renders their promising meet-cute obsolete, making her a total stranger yet again  He has the chance now to make things absolutely perfect in his courtship if he can find a way to break the ice with a stranger.  However, Tim must be very careful with his jaunts to the past, as they can have unintended consequences in other aspects of his life.

Rom-com maestro Richard Curtis (Pirate Radio, Love Actually) writes and directs this comedy-drama-fantasy-science fiction-romance hybrid that initially seems like a Groundhog Day rip-off in plot, but becomes something of its own thing as it plays out.  Unlike Bill Murray in the 1993 classic, Tim Lake doesn't relive the same day over and over against his wishes, but actually has full control of what time he'd like to travel back to and affect the outcome of. 

This all becomes a bit of a nightmare for those audience members susceptible to lapses and lack of adequate explanation of time logic, as Curtis's hold on the nature of the travel seems to change dimension depending on the story's need at any given time.  Needless to say, suspension of disbelief will be critical to your enjoyment; if holes in the plot bother you to no end, this could be an agonizing experience if you're not compelled to go with the flow of the emotional thrust of Curtis's intent.

Curtis is in his element as a romance craftsman here, continuing to utilize the skills he has honed in romantic comedies for over two decades -- the moody pop tune accompaniment, the choice banter, the awkward embarrassments, and the heartfelt emotional underpinnings that draw forth relatable drama as the film draws to its conclusion.  He doesn't get bogged down in the artifice of his narrative device, only using it in order to push forward his themes, contrasting what events of the past mean to one's present, ultimately showing us that the present is where one's happiness should truly be focused.  One can see how this could descend into typical sitcom traps or overbearing life tragedies, but Curtis manages to sidestep the biggest of potholes, even if there are inherent plot-holes, and does so utilizing his deft sleight-of-hand that only comes with knowing what draws his audience's attention most.

For those who key in more on the story of a man and woman who fall in love, or the son and father who come to terms, About Time will yield far better rewards.  Curtis delivers all of the wit, colorful characters and emotional undercurrents you'd expect in one of his vehicles, and draws up some nice character touches for his leads that make them feel like real people worth following and rooting for, rather than mere pawns through which to draw out time-travel gimmickry and cheap gags.  We can also see how the characters mature over the years, with Tim gaining more confidence in his demeanor, and with Mary more personality as she becomes more comfortable with him. 

Kudos to the two leads, who work quite well, especially together.  Gleeson, who some might see as a pale stand-in for the awkwardly romantic lead of Curtis's often utilized Hugh Grant, comes into his own, especially in endearing us to his side by not striving for cartoonish anxiety for all of the film's best moments.  Playing well against him is Rachel McAdams, who might seem typecast as potentially doomed partner of a time-shifting man, having also been the main squeeze in The Time-Traveler's Wife in 2009 and Midnight in Paris in 2011.  While she's too fetching to think that she might have trouble getting a date due to her bookish, anxious demeanor, the film wisely assumes her to be attractive, just not easy to connect with to someone not willing to try.  In Tim, she finds a man willing to hit the reset button enough times to get to know her as if he could read her instantly, though little does she know how many times it really took.

In the end, we learn that the film isn't about supernatural abilities, finding true love, or dwelling on one's past, but rather, it's about taking the time to enjoy the present, to see all of the small moments that make life such a wonderful thing, because, unlike Tim, we don't have the ability to re-live them anytime we wish.  About Time is an exuberant reaffirmation of one's self and one's family, to remember that it's all a gift, and to make sure you tell those you care about how you feel about them the first time around.  While Curtis's films are more of a confectionary delicacy than a full-course dinner, his are the utmost quality of desserts that one with a sweet tooth can't help but find delight in consuming.

Qwipster's rating:

2013 Vince Leo