The King of the Chocolate-Box film is back.
About Time does exactly what it says on the tin. It is about time travel, but it could just as easily be called ‘About Love’, because that’s more aptly what this film focuses on. Not just the stomach churning romantic love we are so used to seeing on our cinema screens; that’s a section of it certainly, but it’s about all love. The love between parents, between siblings, between friends and work colleagues. First love, lasting love, unexpected love. All the while the time travel edges in to play out a commentary on the many pros and cons of the ever-ticking clock and aging on all of these. The bulk of screen time may focus on the relationship between leading players Domhnall Gleeson (last seen in a beautifully harrowing Black Mirror episode opposite Hayley Atwell) and American Sweetheart Rachel McAdams, but the beating heart of the film is the relationship between Tim (Gleeson) and his father (an exquisite Bill Nighy).
Known only as ‘Dad’, Nighy brings an unexpected emotional punch to his role that shapes the film’s timeline. The story begins on a 21st birthday when Tim, an awkward, ginger Hugh Grant (that voice) sits down with his dad for a father-son bonding talk. When his Dad reveals that the men in their family can time travel, Tim shares the audiences’ amusement at the ridiculousness of it all, only to discover that while he might not be able to right the wrongs of history, he can indeed travel back on his own timeline. As a result, he sets out about finding himself a girlfriend, with the reassurance that if he messes up, he can go back and erase it all. The first act plays out like a cross between The Time Traveller’s Wife and 50 First Dates as Tim has to try multiple times to woo the stunning Mary (McAdams) in just the right way, with some amusing cock ups and missteps along the way.
It’s once they’re together that the film really hits the ground running. It’s no longer an extended meet cute, like so many of the romantic movies we are used to seeing, it extends much deeper into love and relationships than this. It becomes an exploration of new marriage, of becoming parents for the first time, the change in family dynamics as parents grow older and children become adults, all the more interesting parts, the more undoubtedly human parts that are usually kept away from viewers on the big screen.
Curtis injects his script with the usual wit we have come to expect. From Tim’s use of his abilities to strengthen his confidence, Nighy’s amusing interjections and finally the trademark Curtis characters we know so well. Tom Hollander as Tim’s alcohol, playwright landlord, Vanessa Kirby as Mary’s opinionated friend and Richard Cordery as Tim’s forgetful Uncle are all revelations, basking in the glow of their quick, witty lines and scene stealing roles.
The time travel element was always going to be the most difficult, and Curtis’ choice to glaze over the particulars works to the films advantage, but leaves little explanation. It’s an interesting narrative ploy to admire the Sliding Doors effect in full force but it does feel clunky on its inception in the film’s opening act.
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