Directed by Richard Curtis, UK, 2013
Ah the films of Richard Curtis. Perhaps no other director working today can so deftly tug at the heartstrings of his audience. He started as the screenwriter behind Four Weddings and a Funeral (1994) and is now the director behind Love Actually (2003), which has fast become a holiday classic. Last year’s About Time, which is showing on HBO this month, is his latest outing.
Like most romantic comedies, About Time revolves around the building of a relationship between two people, Domhnall Gleeson’s Tim and Rachel McAdams’ Mary. Unlike more romantic comedies, one of these two charming people can travel through time.
The fantasy element doesn’t really hold up to close scrutiny. Curtis sets some rules for time travel (as communicated by Tim’s father, played by Bill Nighy) but proceeds to break them. Since time travel is not actually possible, at least according to Stephen Hawking, this doesn’t really mean much of anything. You could say that time travel is caused by a magical unicorn testicle and it would be just as realistic as any other explanation. But I digress.
About Time lacks major, earth-shattering conflict. And that’s okay. Curtis presents to us a charming study of what could happen if we had the power to go back and change things.
Taking advice from his father, a fellow time traveler, Tim doesn’t use his power to accumulate fame or fortune, but rather to help the people around him, and to assist in his relationship with Mary. It could easily have taken a manipulative turn. After all, Tim uses his power to perfect his early interactions with Mary by unfairly using previous “tries” to his advantage.
This is where Curtis’ film really shines though, in that he makes it clear that with or without Tim’s power, things would have worked out with Mary. This happens quite early in the film, so most of it is a meditation on the true worth of the power to re-do the small moments of our lives. Would such a power be helpful? Or more trouble than its worth? The answer isn’t as simple as all of that, but pretty satisfying.
You might like About Time if: You are up for an emotional British movie.
You might not like About Time if: You demand complex or exciting conflict from all your films involving time travel.
(c) 2014 D.G. McCabe