Richard Curtis exploded on the film scene when he wrote FOUR WEDDINGS AND A FUNERAL. He also wrote a few others like NOTTING HILL. In 2003, he made his directorial debut with LOVE ACTUALLY. I liked that quite a bit. But I wasn’t too impressed with his second film, PIRATE RADIO (aka THE BOAT THAT ROCKED), though I do understand that the U.S. version that I saw was severely cut down. I saw a trailer for his latest, ABOUT TIME, back in May. I guess I thought it looked cute, but didn’t really think about it much after I saw it. My 10-year-old on the other hand was really excited to see it, so she made me take her to this. I do like it when she gets excited about a movie. Makes me not dread it as much.
This is kind of your standard British romantic/comedy, except with one twist. It’s also about time travel. Tim (Domhnall Gleeson) is a young man who lives with his parents. On New Year’s Eve (close to his 21st birthday), his father (Bill Nighy) tells him a family secret. That the men in their family can travel through time. Actually, they can only go back in time, but only during their existence. They can’t travel back to Ancient Rome or anything like that. But they can change little things or mistakes that they have done. Little details. Tim tries this at the party (by going into a dark place like a cupboard), and is determined to use this technique to help him get a girlfriend. Tim eventually moves to London to become a Lawyer. One day he meets Mary (Rachel McAdams), and is immediately attracted to her. He uses his time traveling to help him to be in a relationship with her. And it works. The rest of the movie shows how they develop and how his gift can be a blessing and a curse.
I’m going to just come out and say it. This movie surprised the hell out of me! I had no idea that this film would affect me so much. The first thing that works in this film is the characters. Both Tim and Mary are completely likable, believable and relatable characters. Their chemistry with each other is very natural. They’re also surrounded by an assortment of colorful supporting characters too, like Tim’s dad and his playwright roommate. The second thing that works is the time travel element. What a brilliantly unique idea to bring this sci-fi plot device to a romantic/comedy. And it works for the most part. Sure, like any time travel movie, there will be some plot holes if you look hard enough, but honestly, why would you want to here? Everything is just so charming that I just didn’t care if there were any plot holes. As long as they weren’t really major, who cares?
Now, usually with films that have a gimmick, the gimmick usually takes over. That’s not the case here. The time travel aspect doesn’t dominate the movie. It’s there, but more in a matter-of-fact way. And I found that refreshing. This is a movie that’s not trying to sell itself on its gimmick. I liked it that Tim didn’t use his gift more than she should have. He uses it very sparingly. There was a moment during Tim and Mary’s wedding that I thought for sure he was going to use it, but the fact that he didn’t said a lot about his character. That’s part of what made me fall in love with this movie. Is the theme. It’s about embracing life. Living every day like it were your last. It’s a simple enough message, but presented here with originality. And besides that, the film is very romantic. Tim and Mary are among my favorite movie couples.
The acting is delightful. Relative newcomer Domhnall Gleeson (who looks cross between David Thewlis, Martin Freeman and Julian Temple) is an extremely likable leading man. At the same time bumbling and confident. And his work is complimented by Rachel McAdam’s performance as Mary. Together, they completely shine on the screen. And I also like that they’re not a perfect couple. They still go through all the same problems that normal couple go through. But they’re love for each other is inspiring. Bill Nighy gives another great performance as Tim’s dad. He’s one of the few actors who can be drop dead hilarious one moment, and dramatically intense the next. Tom Hollander is also very funny as Tim’s cynical roommate. Lydia Wilson does some great work here as Tim’s sister as well. And it was nice to see Richard Griffiths in a brief cameo in his final screen performance.
Richard Curtis is probably a better writer than a director. And I’m not saying that his direction is bad. It’s not at all. It actually services the script quite well. And that’s the film’s strong point. The script. This is probably my favorite screenplay of the year. It’s so smart, witty, romantic, sad, imaginative, inspiring, and hopeful. I love Curtis’ creativity here. I love seeing how Tim used his time traveling gift and the consequences that he faced because of it. And how Curtis has used this fantastical element and mixes it with a romantic story is brilliant. It’s great to see a film that can have this fantasy theme without the big visual effects. I also usually don’t like a film that spans a long period of time, because I think sometimes characterization can get lost that way. But Curtis finds a way to make this story flow smoothly without ever feeling jagged. The movie is also filled with great songs. How Ben Folds’ “The Luckiest” is used made me bust out crying.
This film may be a little over sentimental for some cold-hearted folks. But for where I am in my life right now, this hit me in all the right places. I completely fell in love with this movie. Not only is this a great romance, but it’s also a great Science Fiction film filled with some hilarious, charming and heartbreaking moments. With all the downbeat movies coming out this Awards season, it’s refreshing to see a movie this delightful.
And for the record, my daughter absolutely loved the film, calling it one of the year’s best films. It’s hard to argue with that statement. ★★★★ (out of ★★★★)
– Rated R for language and some sexual content.
– Running time: 2hrs 3min.