About Time

One of the better romcoms out there, but it’s more than just that.
★★★½
Movie Review #1,091

about_time

Distributed by Universal Pictures. Comedy, Drama, Fantasy. Running time: 2 hours, 3 minutes. Rated R for language and some sexual content. Released November 8, 2013. Directed by Richard Curtis. Produced by Nicky Kentish Barnes, Tim Bevan, and Eric Fellner. Written by Richard Curtis. Starring Domhnall Gleeson, Rachel McAdams, Bill Nighy, Lydia Wilson, Lindsay Duncan, Tom Hollander, and Margot Robbie.

“We’re all travelling through time together, every day of our lives. All we can do is do our best to relish this remarkable ride.” – Domhnall Gleeson as Tim in “About Time”

I’m not the biggest fan of the modern romantic comedy. These days they’re all essentially the same thing with different actors. Boy meets girl, they fall in love. Sometimes there’s a hackneyed twist, like girl discovers boy’s past or a love triangle develops. “About Time,” however, feels refreshingly new. Writer-director Richard Curtis (“Love Actually”) toys with an idea that has been explored in many past films: if you had the ability to travel back in time, how would you use this power? What we get is a film that is just as polished of a fantasy as it is a romance, a comedy, and a drama, with the element of time travel and its conditions cleverly crafted throughout the narrative. However, this doesn’t feel like a fantasy on an emotional level. With Curtis’s deep understanding of the human condition, it feels heavily grounded in a reality to which all of us can relate.

Tim (Domhnall Gleeson) learns of his ability to travel back in time on his 21st birthday. At some points during the film, he chooses to use this gift for altruistic purposes—for example, to stop his sister Kit Kat (Lydia Wilson) from meeting her abusive boyfriend or from getting into a car accident. His initial usage of this power, however, is to perfect his relationship with an American named Mary (Rachel McAdams), the woman of his dreams whom he meets at a restaurant one night. Granted, this can be perceived on a cognitive level as a self-righteous move, but from an emotional standpoint, we can’t really argue with his decision. Right from the get-go, the combination of script and acting is enough to win our hearts and it continues to remain this way as their relationship progresses through the rest of the film. The chemistry between McAdams and Gleeson is absolutely perfect; we get butterflies just watching their interaction with each other.

Initially, it’s a rough series of ups and downs that plays tough with our emotions because we’re already so in love with this couple. It just so happens that their chance meeting occurs right after the debut of Tim’s landlord’s new play, where an actor forgets his lines and ruins the performance. Tim goes back in time to save this from happening and because of that, he ends up not meeting Mary that night. However, he remembers her telling him when they’d met at the restaurant that she is a fan of Kate Moss and resolves to go to an exhibition of hers. Their rapport at this time proves to be rather awkward, as Mary has recently found a boyfriend and Tim is obviously not a fan of Moss’s. But having heard her informed opinion of Moss from her that night, Tim travels back in time again and meets her at a party, impressing her with his faux knowledge of Moss and winning her over. It’s only up from there as we watch them fall in love more every day.

The comedy in “About Time” is remarkably pleasant and wonderfully set up, sometimes relying on editing to achieve the optimum results when Tim goes back in time repeatedly to perfect things. Perhaps the most memorable example of this is when Tim first sleeps with Mary. Initially it’s very awkward: he trips over her shoes on his way into her room and has trouble unhooking her bra. Then he goes back in time to relive the experience all over again, this time moving her shoes so as not to trip and unhooking her bra from the front. (In a moment of beautiful dramatic irony, she is impressed and comments, “You really know your bras.”) Then, as a bonus, he goes back in time again, rushing into her room in a hurry; we cut to moments later when they are sprawled across the floor like animals.

Curtis seems to only neglect two key points in his screenplay. One, Tim never tells Mary that he isn’t actually a fan of Kate Moss, and two, he never admits to her that he can time-travel. Realistically I’d imagine that at least one of these two would have come up at least once during the course of their happy companionship. I’m willing, however, to forgive these minor flaws for the sake of how much I enjoyed the movie. I’m not going to mince words: I loved “About Time.” Everything about the film is an absolute joy to watch, and it’s unmistakably British sense of humor makes it all the more pleasant. It’s a movie that will make you want to fall in love, and even more so, go back in time so you can experience the first viewing all over again.