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Josh Reviews About Time

December 25th, 2013
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When he turns 21, a nice British boy named Tim is told the family secret by his father: all the men in their family can travel in time.

I’m not generally a big fan of romantic comedies, but I was quite taken by the lovely, sweet trailer for About Time, and certainly writer/director Richard Curtis’ name interested me.   I think Four Weddings and a Funeral (written by Mr. Curtis) is a fantastic film, and the sci-fi hook of About Time caught my attention.

I quite enjoyed the film.  I think the trailer did a good job, actually, at capturing the small-scale but very sweet nature of the story.  Don’t go in expecting any complicated sort of time-travel shenanigans.  There’s really very little time-travel-related plot in the film at all.  Anyone who has seen or read a time-travel story is surely expecting, from the moment Tim’s dad tells him about his ability to travel in time, to see Tim go back in time and inadvertently screw up something big in his life.  And, indeed, that happens around the half-way point in the film.  But it’s a minor point in the film, and they don’t even show us how Tim unravels his mistake.  The film just cuts to a new scene and Tim has already gone back and returned things to normal.  As if I’d had any doubts, that moment made clear to me that the sci-fi mechanics are not at all Mr. Curtis’ concern.  Instead, he is using that hook to tell a story that examines the life of this young man and the people in his life, and to convey some simple (but powerful) lessons about slowing down and enjoying your life.

There’s definitely a big geeky part of me that wonders about how exactly the mechanics of the time travel in the film works, and that wishes that Mr. Curtis had better fleshed out the “rules.”  (For instance, sometimes when Tim travels back in time it seems like he is somehow inhabiting his own body at that moment in his past.  But other times he seems to just appear, looking like his future self, somewhere in the past where younger Tim couldn’t have been.  So aren’t there some-times two Tims running around in the same time period, and couldn’t that cause problems?  Also, although it’s established that Tim can’t travel forward in time from his present day, sometimes when he travels to the past he has to then “jump” forward to get back to his present day, while other times he just seems to catch up to himself from when he jumped.  Here again I start to wonder whether there couldn’t sometimes be a problem with two Tims running around in the same time period.  Or does he just “merge” back with his future self when he catches back up to the moment from when he jumped back in time?)

But I must say I also sort of love that Mr. Curtis just doesn’t care about those things.  He’s not making a movie about time-travel, he’s making a movie about characters.  He gives us enough information about the time travel for the film’s story to work, and he uses the time-travel device for a purpose: to illuminate his characters and to tell the story he wants to tell.  I like that this is a film in which the sci-fi plot device actually has a point beyond just plot twistiness.

Mr. Curtis’ sharp script, like much of his work, has a great sense of character and some great humor.  And he did a great job with casting, as the film has a strong ensemble that brings his story to rich life.  I absolutely adore the father-and-son combo of the great Bill Nighy and Domhnall Gleeson.  Mr. Nighy is always great, but he really is terrific in this rather quiet, under-played role of Tim’s father.  Some of the film’s biggest emotional moments rest on Mr. Nighy’s shoulders, and he does a great job.  I have never before heard of Domhnall Gleeson (who plays Tim, the film’s main character), but he’s phenomenal as the every-man at the center of this story, very open and innocent and endearing.  Rachel McAdams is solid (not extraordinary, but very solid) as Mary, the love of Tim’s life around whom most of Tim’s time-traveling revolves.  Together the three characters strongly anchor the tale being told.

About Time is a small-scale film, with a small-scale story.  It’s got some good laughs and some enjoyably emotional moments.  I was quite taken by the on-the-sleeve, un-ironic sweetness of the movie.  I wouldn’t say it’s a great film, but it’s a lovely story and a nice piece of work by Mr. Curtis and his collaborators.

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