I’m a sucker for a good romantic comedy but I was starting to think they were a thing of the past. Those kind of love stories where a bumbling Hugh Grant character sweeps a devastatingly gorgeous woman off her feet and to a happy ending aren’t just a guilty pleasure, they are simply a requirement for many ladies from time to time. Although Rachel McAdams missed the boat with her first time travel romance, her most recent effort included the lovable Bill Nighy and was directed by Grant’s buddy Richard Curtis, so I had to give it a try. The result was wildly delightful.
About Time may be marketing itself as a film about time travel, however the lead character’s mystical ability to skip back in time plays a refreshingly small role in the plot of this satisfying romantic comedy. As the title suggests, the film centers on time but the focus is upon how even the most ordinary among us should use and cherish our precious time, rather than the protagonist’s unlikely gift for manipulating it.
When Tim turns 21 years old, his father reveals the unbelievable fact that all men in the family are blessed with the remarkable ability to time travel. Though the young Tim immediately tests out his father’s revelation by going back in time to rectify a potentially romantic moment gone awry, his father strictly recommends that time travel only be used in circumstances of the utmost importance and after very careful consideration. Shortly thereafter, Tim moves to London to pursue a career in law and to find love. Time travel becomes more of a useful tool in the big city, but he quickly learns its limitations.
Tim uses his time traveling skills to assist his insufferable playwright roommate Harry, by rectifying a horrible episode of on-stage amnesia during opening night of Harry’s most promising work. The night of the play’s debut, however, happens to be the very same evening when Tim meets the lovely Mary. By going back in time to set things right for Harry, Tim rewrites the history of his own night, erasing his introduction to Mary, her phone number from his phone, and all her memories of him.
Luckily Tim is able to track Mary down and replay their next meeting until he gets it perfectly right. Certain scenes are repeated for humor as Tim attempts to steer events from the past to better outcomes, but refreshingly enough, the time travel trope never becomes a crutch to the plot. As Tim and Mary’s relationship evolves, the whole time travel element actually takes a backseat to the stories of love and family which comprise the bulk of the film. There were few if any great shocks in the movie, though I was constantly guessing incorrectly what would happen next. About Time was certainly more subtle than any edge-of-your-seat action movie, but Curtis deftly drew on the opportunities for unpredictability offered by a time traveling protagonist.
Anachronistic plotlines and time travel can get quite messy on screen, leaving viewers with unanswered questions and a degree of confusion that distracts from the meat of a story. A few of the restrictions that defined Tim’s time travel were unveiled in seemingly irreversible events that he was somehow able to make right again. I was mildly confused by these scenes (which I don’t want to describe in great detail for fear of revealing too much), though in the grand scheme of things, this flaw failed to detract from my overall viewing experience. Soon enough, something just-so sentimental brought a tear to my eye or Nighy made me laugh, and I forgot about the time travel confusion from a few moments prior.
Domhnall Gleeson plays a winning and appealing Tim, while Rachel McAdams is lovely as ever in her portrayal of Mary. You can’t lose with Bill Nighy, who brings the perfect blend of humor and heart to the role of Tim’s father (and I can’t say I expected anything less). The role of Tim’s sister Kit Kat, filled by Lydia Wilson, is hard to master, a brilliantly strange and fun-loving person who is also absolutely adored by her brother. But Wilson strikes a delicate balance between wacky and endearing. In the hands of director Richard Curtis, this talented crew of actors pulled off a perfectly balanced story that could have easily become over-the-top and outlandish. Instead, About Time satisfied my craving for a decent rom-com like no trip to the movies has in years.