Fifty-six year old British TV and film writer Richard Curtis has given us some terrific romantic comedies--Four Weddings and a Funeral, The Tall Guy, and Notting Hill, to name his most famous. Surprisingly, he says his second film as director, About Time, will also be his last. I would have thought he'd want to keep directing his own scripts, now that he has established himself, but apparently he feels he has said everything he wants to say as a director in this movie. The story revolves loosely around a time travel gimmick. Upon turning twenty-one, a young man (played by Domhnall Gleeson) is told by his father (Bill Nighy) that the men of their family can go back in time to relive and change the events in their own past. Thus begins a film that follows the standard boy-meets-girl, rom-com formula, with the comedic twist that the boy can go back and try to fix anything he does wrong, or thinks he could do better. There is certainly a lot of potential comedy in this premise, but Curtis is more interested in pulling at our heartstrings than tickling our funny bone. This is much more a film about a father and son than about two lovers. After all, it is between the two men in this story, not with either of their wives, that the secret is shared.
About Time, though pleasant enough to satisfy less discriminating rom-com fans, is far too sloppy for me to recommend. A comedy with such a free-form premise should not also have to rely on extensive voice-over narration, nor should it require a running time of over two hours. The moral of this story is not difficult to grasp, but that doesn't keep Curtis from spelling it out for us at every possible opportunity. Most problematic is the time travel shtick itself. Though Curtis doesn't overuse it (nor does he have half as much fun with the idea as he should) this is a semi-God-like power that makes everything too easy for the main character. It is such overwhelming narrative contrivance that only an expertly crafted screenplay could hold both an audience's suspension of disbelief and our affinity for the protagonist. Unfortunately, Curtis' screenplay isn't in league with great magical realism movies like Groundhog Day, Being John Malkovich, or The Purple Rose of Cairo that use their supernatural gimmicks to convey complex emotional states and explore themes that would be difficult to embrace in a more naturalistic film. Curtis does come up with a strong complication for the time travel ability that deepens his story in the second act, but he sets it up so awkwardly that by the time we fully comprehend the limitations of the power, we've pretty much stopped caring what happens to any of the people on screen.
Coming across like a young, less attractive, but less smarmy Hugh Grant, Gleeson is a charming enough lead to convince most viewers to stick with the picture and get to its few effectively touching moments. Rachel McAdams, on the other hand, gives her usual cute but boring girlfriend performance that always makes me wish Meg Ryan was still in her twenties so I could be watching her instead. Lindsay Duncan does her best with the underwritten part of Gleeson's mother, but as the father, Bill Nighy gets to play the ultimate version of the impishly deadpan character he's known for. In fact, for any devotee of this understand comic actor, About Time will be dream come true. Unfortunately the real love story at the center of this movie--the one between the son and the father--is only a subplot.
Tim Bevan and Eric Fellner
Domhnall Gleeson, Rachel McAdams, Bill Nighy, Lydia Wilson, Lindsay Duncan, Richard Cordery, Joshua McGuire, Tom Hollander, Margot Robbie, Will Merrick, Vanessa Kirby, Tom Hughes, Richard Griffiths, and Richard E. Grant
08 November 2013
Color / 2.35 : 1
08 November 2013
2.35 : 1