Written by Zac Platt.
About Time is the latest heart-warmer from British Rom-com royalty Richard Curtis, the screenwriter behind Notting Hill, Bridget Jones’s Diary and Love Actually. A paranormal twist on the genre, the film follows the life of Tim (Domhnall Gleeson), who learns he has inherited the ability to travel back in time to relive moments of his life and, where necessary, give them a do-over. It’s a fun concept with a lot of comedic potential, but before too long it becomes obvious this isn’t quite the quirky relationship-story seen in the promotions. Rather, it’s a meditation on life, regret and acceptance, all packaged with Curtis’ signature adorably bumbling characters and garnished with an enjoyable conceit.
It’s certainly a bit more ambitious than previous entries from Curtis, and for the most part the film is a success. Aside from leaning a tad too heavily on some easy troupes, About Time’s most obvious flaw is that the ingenious elements introduced just aren’t thought out well enough. Some really interesting ideas could have made the film into something very special had they been given a bit more of a backbone. By trying to paint too grand a picture, the most interesting plotlines get pushed into the background and it all feels a little out of focus.
Both the growing melancholy of Tim’s sister Kit Kat (Lydia Wilson) and the clever limitation of having to choose which way a day should have gone are stories with wasted potential, but it’s the relationship between Tim and his father (Bill Nighy) that will have you pulling out your hair in frustration. Without spoiling too much, About Time creates a brilliant puzzle with Tim’s abilities that slowly reveals itself to be something truly beautiful and tragic between these two characters. As a great ending should, it forces Tim to make a difficult decision that incorporates both the film’s philosophy and everything learned by the protagonist. It’s an amazing plot construction that would easily bring a tear to your eye if it wasn’t for the offensively gaping plot hole that had everyone in the cinema whispering to the person next to them, trying to make sense of story.
The emotional climax of this film is completely disarmed by some sloppy mistreatment of the rules About Time places on time travel. It wouldn’t be so bad if the entire consequence of Tim’s final decision wasn’t contradicted by multiple scenes in the film, but there you have it. To be honest, the time travel was always a bit of a gimmick, with the real meat in the grounded take on life, love and death. But when the writer chooses to sum up the entire film with a plotline, there is no excuse for not taking the time to make sense of the script.
All of that said, the fumble wouldn’t be such a problem if their relationship wasn’t as warm and believable as it was. It does get a little mushy, but it’s impossible not to have a smile on your face whenever Gleeson and Nighy are on-screen together. While Gleeson is a fine lead, handling both the dramatic moments and ‘umm-ahh’ Curtis comedy perfectly, Nighy is the heart and soul of the film. You probably know what to expect from him by now, but his fuddy-yet-learned shtick is especially suited to this fatherly role. Someone who has felt the weight of the world but never once let it bring him down, About Time wouldn’t be half the film it is without this character or Nighy to play him.
Notice that I haven’t once mentioned Rachel McAdams’ Mary? Well, it goes back to the film being misleadingly promoted as a rom-com with a twist. While certainly an integral ingredient, Tim and Mary’s relationship is really just one of the film’s many moving parts.
Perhaps because it’s such familiar territory for Curtis, About Time does seem to forget what it is from time to time, slipping into a much more generic film about getting the (or just a) girl. While McAdams is endearing and her chemistry with Gleeson is spot on (though the relationship gets a little creepy if you start over thinking the ethics of time travel), it does feel a little odd in hindsight that the story continues on its merry way after they get together and resolve all of the film’s conflict thus far.
Though lacking in focus on any one defining component, About Time is more than the sum of all its parts. It all works together to create a sense of wisdom, an invaluable insight from a higher perspective. With the exception of some throwaway b-characters, this warm and cosy Curtis comedy hits all its marks, and the character’s progress wonderfully in a way that benefits from the film’s time travel twist, rather than in spite of it. It’s just so maddening that the problems with the script are so apparent, but also so fixable. And with no other subplot acting as a suitable anchor, this laziness is the difference between a great film and forgettable one.
In spite of its problems, About Time is still worth checking out. Its philosophy of accepting loss and your mistakes, rather than trying to control everything, is expertly told and a powerful sentiment on how to live your life. It’s just not a great one for when you’re directing a movie.
THE REEL SCORE: 7/10