Movie Review: About Time

“We're all quite similar in the end. We all get old and tell the same tales too many times.”

This review contains some vague spoilers, but the truth is that nothing unexpected happens in this film anyway, so it probably doesn’t matter.

About Time is a time-traveling romance movie from Richard Curtis, the man behind Love Actually. It does exactly what you would expect it to, and it does it well.

Tim Lake (Domhnall Gleeson) is a geeky Hugh Grant: a bit stumbling, “too tall, too skinny, too orange.” But, after he finished law school, his father (Bill Nighy) revealed his one great strength: the men in the Lake family can travel through time. (He waited until his son was done with law school to tell him that?)

The rules are simple: Tim goes into a dark, enclosed place, clenches his fists, and thinks of a moment he has lived through. His consciousness travels, not his body, so there’s no threat of a double-body problem. (Paradoxes and the butterfly effect are dismissed quickly.) He can relive experiences with the knowledge of how to do it right the second, third, or fiftieth time around. But Tim cannot travel into the future, and his father discourages him from getting too caught up in things like money, because this is one of those British films in which everyone is so solidly upper-middle class that they can’t be bothered to think of such tawdry, unimportant things.

After a few cute attempts to fix the core problem of his life—unlucky in love—Tim meets the perfect woman Mary (Rachel McAdams). Luckily, he gets it right the first time; otherwise, this might become a review of a horrifying movie about a temporal stalker who coerces a bookish American to fall for his corny deeds and manufactured personality.

The love story between Tim and Mary is adorable, as one would expect from Richard Curtis, although thin, which seems irrelevant. This is a movie with almost no tension: Time gets Mary, Tim struggles to balance taking care of his family and friends with getting Mary (because going back in time changes the present), Tim and Mary have an adorable family. Tim does struggle with the loss of a close family member, but time travel allows him to experience that passing as cleanly as possible.

About Time glosses over the dirty minutiae of life. At one point, as Tim was discussing his family’s halcyon life in Cornwall, I couldn’t stop thinking about how much invisible housework his mother must do to keep them all fed, clothed, tidied, and so on. His father, also a time traveler, used his extra time for reading. If I had that power, I’d use it for reading, but I’d also try to create a schedule in which doing laundry and cleaning house no longer sucked half a day out of each week. But in the world of Richard Curtis, practicality and dirty dishes simply don’t exist.

Is that a serious critique? No. We’re not supposed to think those thoughts, and doing so breaks the spell this movie casts. This movie is aspirational: we all want—or are supposed to want—the gigantic rambling house on the Cornish coast. (Yes, I want that. Especially if Cornwall is as sunny as it seems in this film.) We all want the familial support system Tim has. Most of us would love a Tim in our lives, or a Mary, and the neat trajectory of their lives.

That neat trajectory could be cloying, but the skill of the cast (and Richard Curtis's writing--she admitted grudgingly) make it simply unchallenging. Uncomplicated. Sweet, with just enough tugging that your heartstrings will get a light workout. And sometimes that all you want from a movie: two hours of pleasant pleasure. So:

Three out of four Kate Mosses.

Josie Kafka reviews The Vampire Diaries, Game of Thrones, and various other things that take her fancy. She is a full-time cat servant and part-time rogue demon hunter. (What's a rogue demon?)


Billie Doux said...

Yeah, I saw this one. It had some interesting stuff, but I kept thinking about the practical stuff, too. :) Great review, Josie.

Juliette said...

I like this film, but it bothers me that he never seems to tell Mary. I guess it would be hard to get her to believe, but that felt off to me, especially considering how often he drastically changes their lives. And how come only the men get this power anyway?! (Because the storyline with Tim's sister wouldn't work otherwise - but it's still annoying!)

jencat said...

I was pleasantly surprised with this one as well (and it made my mum cry). Sorry Josie, although Cornwall tends to be a bit warmer than the rest of the country, it's not always that sunny, sadly (it is in the UK after all).

Scott Riggan said...

I loved this movie. Not having seen the trailer prior to watching it definitely helped me to just accept the story on its own terms with no expectations. I had the same kind of experience with The Sixth Sense (with nothing spoiled!).

This movie is clearly unconcerned with the mechanics of time travel, but for once I was kind of relieved to not have endless explanations. The story unfolded more like a fairy tale, with his power presented as something magical - the origins of which weren't relevant.

And Gleeson and McAdams were great together.