So let’s get a few things clear. Yes, About Time is about a man who can travel in time. No, it’s not anything like The Time Traveler’s Wife (which also starred Rachel McAdams), nor is it some crappy Nicholas Sparks movie (two of which starred Rachel McAdams). This is a film directed and written by Richard Curtis, who wrote the screenplays for Notting Hill, Bridget Jones’s Diary, Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason, and Love, Actually. Basically, what I’m saying is don’t look at this movie and say, “Ew, gross. Another rom-com.” Because that’s not what’s going on here. Is their romance? Of course! Is their comedy? Of course! But it’s so much more. Let’s talk About Time…
First, the plot! Awkward “nice guy” Tim Lake (Domhnall Gleeson) learns from his father (Bill Nighy) that the men in his family have the ability to travel through time, but he can only return to moments in the past that he has experienced (No killing Hitler or banging Helen of Troy, his father explains). After moving to London to take a job as a lawyer, Tim meets the love of his life, Mary (Rachel McAdams), though it takes him a few tries to get their first meeting just right. As his life with Mary progresses, Tim realizes that his time-travel ability can’t fix every problem he encounters.
Honestly, I think the trailer for About Time is hilariously misleading. Many people thought this movie was going to be about Tim’s relationship with Mary and how he used his family’s time-traveling ability to make it the greatest romance ever. Yeah, it’s not. In fact, Tim and Mary’s romance actually serves as a catalyst for Tim’s much deeper coming-of-age lesson about life and family, with which he gets a little help from his father.
You see, at first, Tim tries to fix little mistakes—like being in the right place at the right time to meet Mary and not saying anything stupid. But as the movie goes on, Tim tries to keep things from happening to those he loves and finds out that there are more serious consequences to changing other people’s lives. For example, when his sister, Kit Kat (Lydia Wilson), gets in a car accident after a drunken fight with her boyfriend, he tries to prevent her from meeting that boyfriend in the past. In doing so, he changes the gender of his first-born child (You can’t go back past the birth otherwise you risk changing the child’s DNA because individual sperm are specifically coded with genetic material). But Tim’s greatest life lesson is in his father’s death.
After learning that his father has cancer, Tim realizes they can use time-travel to spend time together. The scene before his father’s funeral is especially sweet because Tim travels back to a discussion he had with his father, and his father knows exactly where he came from in the present. Eventually though, Tim has to let his father go because no one can live forever (even with time-travel), a concept that he doesn’t understand until Mary wants another child after his father’s death (Remember the sperm?). And, boy, it will give you all the feels.
As expected with a Richard Curtis film, there is a great balance of romance, comedy, and drama. Curtis’ screenwriting is impeccable. He’s able to capture the oddities of life with humor, emotional depth, and witty dialogue. I know today’s American rom-coms get shit on all of the time, but they seriously don’t stand up to British rom-coms, and I think it’s because of writers like Curtis. They’re on an entirely different level.
It helps, too, that Curtis has a talented cast at his disposal for this movie. Domhnall Gleeson (Bill Weasley in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Pt. 1-2) is like a young Hugh Grant with all of his awkward charm. Well, okay, he doesn’t ooze sex like Grant does, but you know what I mean. Bill Nighy is just goddamn fantastic in everything he’s ever been in (If he isn’t your favorite character in Love, Actually, then we can’t be friends). I would watch that man read the phonebook. I do worry that Rachel McAdams is getting niched into the “rom-com sweetheart” role—like some of her less talented Anistonian predecessors—because she’s taken so many easy paychecks lately. Nevertheless, she is lovely onscreen, and she was a good fit as the insecure yet sassy beauty. Although, I will say, whoever was doing the makeup and costuming for this movie made her look rather frumpy.
The time-travel, unsurprisingly, is my biggest complaint. I think until we master time-travel in real life, movies just can’t establish it in a believable setting (except space because no one understands space). The problem with the time-travel in About Time is that we never get explanations. Why do the men have time-traveling abilities? When did the Lake men realize they could do it? Why can’t Kit Kat have it? Our questions are never answered (not even briefly), which is irritating. I’m not saying break down the physics for me here; I just want something more than “Hey, we have this. Accept it.”
Plus, the time-travel in this movie does have a lot of weird moments. For example, at one point, Tim visits his father in a time-travel scene, and together they go even farther back into another time-travel scene (Is this Inception?). Doesn’t that go against the whole sperm issue brought up earlier? I’m confused. But to be fair to this movie, the time-travel was more a convenient device than than a major focus of the plot (See: Looper), so it was a little easier to forgive its clumsiness.
Overall, About Time is heartwarming, funny, and even a little sad (but in the good “I’m a human; therefore, I have feelings” way). And I absolutely love the message of this film—bask in every moment of your life because you only get one chance to make it count. While most rom-coms put the romantic plot at the forefront, About Time gives the romance a sub-plot and spends its time starting deeper discussions about what it truly means to be happy in life. That’s because director Richard Curtis is a seasoned screenwriter who knows that a movie needs more than just googly eyes and adorable proposals (There’s still some of that). His screenplay is exactly what I (and hopefully others) want in a good rom-com: wit, charm, a little awkwardness, and an overall rewarding feeling. If it weren’t for the clumsy time-travel, this movie would’ve been in the A-range.
About Time: B+
For my radio review of About Time on “Pat & JT in the Morning,” visit this link (starts around the 17:28 mark).