Time Traveling for Love
Having written the screenplays for Notting Hill, Four Weddings and a Funeral, and Love Actually (which he also directed), Richard Curtis has proven to be adept at creating captivating romantic comedies that feature wonderfully-written characters. With About Time, he returns to the genre as both writer and director, but this time he slyly introduces elements from another genre: science fiction. No, there aren’t any flying cars or aliens, just some simple time travel. The time-traveling itself may be simple, but as the film’s main character quickly learns, using time travel to control your destiny is not so straightforward.
On his 21st birthday, Tim is told by his father a family secret: the men in their family can all travel back in time. They cannot visit the future, but they can return back to any moment in their own life and relive it. The method is easy. There are no DeLoreans or phone booths. You simply go to a dark place, clench your fists, close your eyes, and think of the time that you want to go back to. Tim is sure this is all one big joke, but he tries it anyway and is shocked to realize that it is no joke. He can actually travel back in time. When asked what he will do with his new found power, Tim doesn’t even hesitate. He’s going to use it to get a girlfriend.
His new skill does little to speed up the process of him actually meeting that girl, but after six long months living with his father’s constantly grumpy friend in London, Tim meets Mary. The attraction is mutual and immediate. She gives him her number. Everything is looking bright for Tim, but after deciding to go back in time to help a friend, Tim discovers that Mary’s number is now missing from his phone. When he runs into her again, he finds that she doesn’t know him. It’s his first lesson in what Doc Brown might call messing with the space-time continuum. He is eventually able to win Mary over again, but over the next 5-10 years he will continue to discover that for certain futures to exist, certain pasts must be left behind.
Unlike most time travel movies, there are not any crazy sound or visual effects in About Time. The only reason we know that the character has gone back in time is a change of wardrobe. The “how” of time travel is not the focus of this movie; instead, it’s the “why?” Throughout the movie Tim must decide which things in life are the most important to him. As his father explains, there are no far-reaching butterfly effects, but going back past a certain date could alter everything that happened beyond that date. This especially becomes a factor once Tim and Mary decide to start a family.
As expected, Curtis does a brilliant job of blending drama and heartbreak with humor and romance. He does so with a style that is as simple as his time-traveling device, never getting in the way of the story. One particular moment that stands out is a montage that speeds us through the early years in Tim and Mary’s relationship without ever leaving a subway station. The only distraction is an overuse of handheld cameras at times and a few inconsistencies when it comes to all the traveling back in time, but film is so enjoyable that you are willing to forgive it a few small blemishes.
Curtis also creates characters that are so wonderful you cannot help but fall in love with them yourselves. Domhnall Gleeson is terrific in his first major lead role as Tim, and Rachel McAdams—who plays a time traveler’s wife for a second time in her career—is so lovely and genuine, you can see why Tim would change the past to have her in his life. Key among the supporting players is Love Actually vet Bill Nighy who plays Tim’s father. Always a hoot, Nighy here also helps to provide the film’s emotional core.
Ultimately, the movie becomes about living life to the fullest each and every day. Don’t want to change things. Live each day of your life as if it is the day you went back in time so that you could experience it one more time. I tell you what, this movie is one that I will enjoy going back to experience more than once. Fortunately, I don’t need to be able to time travel for that.
About Time is rated R for “language and some sexual content.” There is some sexual content, but nothing too graphic. The rating is mostly for the language, but unless you are listening for it, you likely will hardly notice.
Courtesy of a local publicist, Jeff attended a promotional screening of About Time.