Following the disappointment of his last film, the plot-free and mostly laugh-free comedy The Boat that Rocked, Richard Curtis, who also wrote and directed the very fine Love Actually, returns to what he does best: charming, witty rom-coms with sensitive, floppy-haired Englishman. As with all Richard Curtis’ films, his latest effort, About Time is set in an alternate universe where everyone is cute and quirky and where love conquers all. This time, though, Curtis has taken a further step into the world of fantasy by adding time travel.
Domhnall Gleeson stars as Tim, a 21 year old ginger goofball, who shares a strange but affectionate household with his laconic Father (Bill Nigh), acerbic Mother (Lindsey Duncan), flighty flower-child sister Kit Kat (Lydia Wilson) and spacey uncle (Richard Cordery). To Tim’s surprise his dad one day casually reveals that the men in family have the ability to travel through time. All they have to do is stand in a dark and secluded place and think of the time to which they want to travel. Sceptical at first, the lovelorn Tim subsequently tries to use this strange ability to find a girlfriend. When he meets and instantly falls in love with Mary (Rachel McAdams), Tim uses time travel to rectify his clutzy dating mistakes in the hope of winning her over.
This playful, fitfully amusing film is cute and fluffy in the Curtis tradition but with a melancholic undercurrent as Tim discovers the limits, responsibilities and unexpected effects of time travel. About Time touches on weighty themes such as the mystery of fate, the responsibility that goes with power and the pain of regret but this is a rom-com so the film doesn’t try to explore these philosophical issues in great depth.
Gleeson, who looks disturbingly like the love child of Martin Freeman and David Wenham is a likeable and amusing klutz but he lacks the charisma of Curtis’ greatest muse, Hugh Grant. Rachel McAdams, is as delightful as ever and she and Gleeson have genuine chemistry so the purely romantic parts of the film work well. Admittedly, though this film never fully addresses the fact that their relationship has benefitted from a bizarre secret and a lot of deception. As usual, Bill Nigh steals every scene with his amusingly effete rakish manner but his character also has an emotionally moving side that we don’t normally see from Nigh. Some characters don’t work so well such as Tim’s inexplicably miserable housemate Harry (Tom Hollander) and Tim’s oddly bitter mother. Fans of comedy classic Withnail and I will, however, appreciate what will sadly be the last on-screen pairing of Richard E. Grant and the late Richard Griffiths in a brief scene involving a stage play.
As with any time travel film there’s a huge suspension of disbelief and Curtis doesn’t’ attempt to provide a detailed scientific explanation of the time travel power although he does establish some rules for its use that effectively add to the drama and the film’s emotional impact .
About Time has a few flat spots and isn’t quite in the same league as Curtis’ masterpiece Love Actually. Also, some may find the film overly sentimental and at 123 minutes, too long. Those willing to surrender to Curtis’ romantic fantasy world, though, will find About Time a charming, emotional and poignant film.
Nick’s rating: Three stars.
Director(s): Richard Curtis.
Release date: 17th Oct 2013
Running time: 123 mins.