Have you ever wished that you could go back in time to stop yourself from saying something stupid? Or to return to a moment when you should have kissed someone but didn’t? Of course you have. One of the great frustrations of life is that you cannot re-live moments that have passed. But what if you could? This is the question asked in Richard Curtis’ About Time. This is nothing new, of course. There have been countless films dealing with the concept of time travel, but none have presented it as truthfully and realistically as About Time. The film depicts what one can assume it would actually be like for a normal, everyday person if they had the ability to travel in time.
Tim (Domhnall Gleeson) is a regular 21 year old, dealing with the everyday struggles of youth; he is socially awkward, his best friend is a twat, and he doesn’t have a girlfriend. Calling Tim into his study one day, his father (Bill Nighy) lets him in on a little secret: the men in their family have the ability to travel back to any moment in their life. Rather than struggle under the burden of such a gift, Tim gets right to it, using his ability in an effort to get a girlfriend. Moving to London, Tim meets and falls in love with Mary (Rachel McAdams). But after altering the past to solve a problem for his housemate (an awkward Tom Hollander), Tim accidentally erases his first meeting with Mary. Uh-oh!
So far so cliché. Given audience expectations and the romantic-comedy vibe of the trailer, one could be forgiven for thinking that the rest of the film will be a predictable schmaltz-fest, with Tim using his ability to time travel to win Mary back. But where the film goes from here is consistently surprising and enjoyable, with Tim’s relationship with Mary ultimately taking a backseat to his touching relationship with his father.
Curtis cleverly decides to have Tim find out about and accept his ability within the first ten minutes of the film, allowing the viewer to do the same. About Time is more restrained than his most popular directorial effort, the underrated Love Actually (2003), and captures the same authenticity of the more convincing segments of that film (particularly the Emma Thompson/Alan Rickman storyline). Despite the fantastical nature of the central plot device, About Time is actually Curtis’ most genuine and true-to-life work yet. Tim’s relationships within the film, with Mary, his father, and sister Kit Kat (Lydia Wilson) are so convincingly portrayed that each character genuinely feels like a real person, which is easier said than done.
Gleeson is wonderful in his first leading role. He portrays Tim as such a likeable and charming guy, and if there’s any justice in the world it will be a star-making role for him. He seems to be the perfect vehicle for Curtis’ dialogue, and it would be great to see them work together on a string of films. McAdams gives her most authentic performance in a long time, even though she feels slightly miscast. Tim and Mary’s first meeting in a pitch black restaurant is charmingly quirky, and the moment they first lay eyes on each other outside the restaurant is quite sweet. Their chemistry grows as the film progresses, and they successfully rise to the challenge of portraying a convincing couple over the substantial time span of the film. The real heart of the movie, though, is Tim’s relationship with his father. Gleeson and a career-best Nighy are ridiculously effective in their scenes together, giving us one of the most authentic and loving father/son relationships ever put on film. Having formed such strong emotional bonds with all of these characters over the first two thirds of the film, the final third is an emotional rollercoaster that will leave few dry eyes in the cinema. In this sense, About Time can be compared to the Curtis-scripted Four Weddings and a Funeral (1994); a film usually billed as a comedy, but which packs an emotional punch rarely found in even the most effective dramas.
Ultimately, Curtis’ goal is to challenge the viewer to cherish each day and person in their life, and he succeeds with flying colours. About Time will teach you the value of forgetting about the trivialities of every day life and focusing on the important things; family, friendship and happiness. The film transcends being merely entertainment, becoming an experience that just might change your life. Surely everyone can spare two hours for that?
Review Score: FOUR AND A HALF STARS (OUT OF FIVE)
Runtime: 123 Minutes
About Time is released nationally this Thursday.