By Simon Miraudo
October 14, 2013
Richard Curtis lives to make you melt, and his latest, About Time, should just about do the trick. It's sad and sweet. And shapeless. But mostly sweet. His previous directorial effort, The Boat That Rocked, also suffered from bagginess (thirty minutes were shaved off its American release). I'll forgive the over-length in this instance, just because the world crafted here is so lovely; its characters so warm. Rachel McAdams continues to be effortlessly charming, and Domhnall Gleeson proves himself to be a cuddly force to contend with. This pairing has the potential to resurrect the romantic comedy genre from its current post-apocalyptic state. As if that weren't enough, Richard Curtis went and threw in a healthy heaping of Bill Nighy for good measure. About Time has its problems, but the pleasures are in abundance.
Newcomer - at least to these eyes - Gleeson stars as Tim, a nervy romantic seemingly caught halfway between Hugh Grant and Stephen Merchant. On his twenty-first birthday, his Cornwall-residing father (Nighy) tells him of a unique family talent: the ability to travel back in time. As with any plot device that big, there are rules that must be adhered to: 1) Tim can only go back to a time he can remember from his own life; 2) The travelling can only be conducted in a dark, intimate space; and 3) He should try not to undo any major world events, you know, butterfly effect and all that. Tim decides to deploy his power solely in the pursuit of women; first, the flirty Charlotte (Margot Robbie), and later, the love of his life, mousy Mary (McAdams). He and Mary build a life together in London, yet the temptation to rewind tragic events involving his playwright buddy Harry (Tom Hollander), unstable sister Kit Kat (Lydia Wilson), and even his dear old dad could end up with Tim accidentally negating his romantic relationship.
That synopsis suggests a more streamlined, three-act structure than About Time actually exhibits. It plays more like a biopic for a person who's never existed, or an adaptation of an ambling, amiable novel uninterested in artificial obstacles or traditional storytelling styles. I did find myself getting ahead of Curtis' script; attempting to predict where the tale was heading, and always being incorrect. As the credits rolled, it became apparent that there's really no story to the thing at all. Yet there were moments of pure joy, lovely little asides, a couple of heartbreaking sequences, and more than a few laughs. About Time even admirably sidesteps the most cloying of all rom-com contrivances when Tim runs into Charlotte later in life, and I was appreciative.
That does mean, however, there are a number of briefly raised threads that ultimately don't lead anywhere particularly satisfying (see: Kit Kat's resolution). Also, it seems as if Curtis keeps Tim from tearing distressing holes in the fabric of time and space, sparing him from having to face anything too irrevocably distressing. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, this ain't. Still, with plum, showcasey roles for the charming trio of Gleeson, McAdams, and Nighy, as well as an earnest (and only somewhat trite) message about appreciating each day as it comes, About Time is difficult to dislike. Less manipulative and calculating than Love Actually, I'd say it's Curtis' best effort yet. He claims this will be his last film as a director. And just when he was getting good.
About Time arrives in cinemas October 17.