Thursday, December 5, 2013

Review: About Time

There are three things you may have noticed about About Time:

1. It is a Richard Curtis movie

2. It is a time travel movie
3. It is a Rachel McAdams romantic-type movie.

While it succeeds admirably at point 1, it fails miserably at point 2, and I would like to make a case for point 3 meaning something far meatier connotations than it currently does. (And, yes, amazingly points 2 & 3 have co-existed before).

Point 1:

Being a Richard Curtis movie, it is of course charming, cutely eccentric, unashamedly sentimental and just potty-mouthed enough to remind you it is British, and therefore less shallow than an American movie. For this reason alone, About Time will do quite well. 

Are they not adorkable?

Point 2:

As a time travel movie, it's pants. If you're interested in the philosophical nature of time travel scenarios, the unforeseen consequences of altering past decisions or the worrisome establishing of multiple timelines (and you should be), About Time will drive you bananas. Curtis is not so much interested in time travel so much as ruminating on how to spend our limited time on earth wisely. 

Curtis makes some lovely observations about family & how to live an ordinary life well and, perhaps, he's on to some poignant points.It's just a pity he's not into tight plotting or space-time continuum logic. Perhaps I've been spoiled by too many great episodes of Fringe and Community, but when time travel / alternate realities are introduced to the plot, it is to be taken seriously (preferably with gloomy, mind-bending results). 

Curtis doesn't, and he makes this clear upfront by the whimsically casual way he Bill Nighys time travel into the story. Sure, when it comes to magic realism, the less exposition, the better, but forgive me for wanting to be at least slightly baffled by the unforeseen implications of tiny shifts in time. I'm pretty willing to suspend my disbelief and overlook plot holes for time travel conundrums, but there need to be some solid ground rules / internal logic. Curtis stays light on internal logic, favouring a more freewheeling approach instead.

Tim's time travel abilities leave little in the way of undesired consequences, but much in the way of magical fun & male wish fulfillment. It's kind of a straight-forward Erase / Rewind situation, with a few arbitrary twists and bugs (sperm logic, anyone?) thrown in for some plot tension. 

But who cares? It's not the point. You're not watching a Time Travel Movie, you're watching a Richard Curtis movie. Since the point of the movie is kind of not over-thinking life, but just enjoying it, I suppose a similar approach is to be advised for the film itself.

Point 3

Yes. This is the second time travel romance that Rachel McAdams has made. How bizarre. This one makes the other one seem more legit from a time travel point of view. But I'd probably still want to watch this one again before that one. 

It is very bizarre that Curtis seems intent on presenting Rachel McAdams as some kind of frumpy, quirky, smart, loner girl. Yeah, no, vintage dresses, hipster glasses, brown hair & a weird obsession with Kate Moss do not the lovely McAdams into an outsider frump make.

I really wish the description "a Rachel McAdams movie" would carry with it more weight and thrill of anticipation. She's really a much better actress than her agent seems to think. Someone please give this woman a good script. I'd really love to see her play a murderer, or a vile politician, or basically any character not impossibly adorable and lovely. At least half the time.   

But more to the point, McAdams is lovely and huggable as ever in About Time. Domhnall Gleeson is equally charming and together they have a sweet chemistry. Though all the meet-cutes, chat-cutes and grow-cutes would appear to indicate that Tim and Mary are soul mates of sorts, just one single tiny fight would have gone a long way to making their relationship more believable. More problematically, it is unforgivable that Tim never bothers to mention his gift / condition to Mary. Especially since he does little with it but trick his way into her life, heart and pants. 

Really, it kind of fails as a romcom, cause it's ultimately much more of a father-son movie, which bring me to my conclusion.


Taking the film for what it is, here is what is great about it:

  • Bill Nighy 
  • The father-son bits of the story 

Curtis makes a strong case for the importance of (eccentric, accepting, British, tea drinking) families, and presents a touching, incredibly sincere (if underdeveloped) father-son relationship. Again, Curtis is painting in broad strokes of father-son relationships generally (as neither character is developed enough to really delve into the relationship specifically) but, in its final stretch, Curtis' script and film find a sincerity and depth nothing else in the film touches, and emerge with easy sentiment marginally defeated by an authentic delivery of earnest longings. If only Curtis could give us a more workable plan for spending less time at work and more time with teenage sons (standing in a cupboard and clenching your fists likely won't work for most of us). 

All in all, a somewhat lazy, but quite charming & uncommonly meditative Richard Curtis outing. Probably great for first dates. Even better for father-son dates (although, if you already do those, you probably don't need to see this).

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