[reviewed by NG SU ANN]
Ah, Richard Curtis: the maestro of rom-com, the man who brought us “Four Weddings and a Funeral”, “Notting Hill” and “Love Actually”. His latest – and reportedly last – film as a writer-cum-director, “About Time” ticks plenty of familiar, sentimental Richard Curtis-type boxes, including but not limited to: an earnest, geeky Hugh Grant-type leading man, an American female love interest, and a cheery, stiff-lipped cast of upper-class British folks.
The film opens up with Tim Lake (Domhnall Gleeson, who played Bill Weasley in the Harry Potter series and Konstantin Levin in “Anna Karenina”) confessing in a voice-over: “For me, it was always going to be about love.” Tim is the son of eccentric, mysteriously wealthy parents (Bill Nighy and Lindsay Duncan). Growing up in a large house with a lovable and wacky younger sister nicknamed ‘Kit Kat’, the family enjoys outdoor movie nights in their backyard, throws New Year Eve parties, and takes tea on the beach together every day.
So far, so good, but wait for the science fiction twist: on his 21st birthday, Tim’s father, dripping with wry charm, tells him that the men of the family have the ability to travel back in time to earlier moments in their own lives. If they clench their fists in the dark – for example, in a closet – really, really hard, they can nip back to a point in their lives to tweak it for the better (but the upshot is, as pointed out by Tim’s father, is that they can’t do anything dramatic or history-changing like “kill Hitler”). When asked by his father what he would like to do with this extraordinary gift, Tim mumbles that he would “really like a girlfriend”. Well, but of course.
Time travel is such a delicate, tricky business, and “About Time” completely disregards the “how” and tells us only “what’s next”. The movie makes no attempt to explain the time travel genetic quirk, nor how it only affects the men in the family. And with Tim’s flair for time travel limited to personal, small alterations in his own life, he is free to use it to change an awkward New Year’s Eve handshake with a girl to a smooth snog, hone his seduction skills on Kit Kat’s boyfriend’s beautiful blonde cousin, and ultimately, to win over the woman of his dreams, Mary (Rachel McAdams).
Unlike McAdam’s character in ‘The Time Traveler’s Wife’, Mary is conveniently ignorant about her significant other’s handy little secret. Before long, Tim and Mary embark on a blissful, flawless marriage – not once in the movie do they row, Mary gets along handsomely with Tim’s eccentric family, and the pair have beautiful children together to complete the pretty picture. At the heart of the film though, as time travel begins to take a backseat, is the relationship between Tim and his father. In fact, to me, the film isn’t really about time travel at all. It is less a rom-com than it is a family drama, inclusive of a car crash, a death and a funeral (although, you know, not all three necessarily befalling one character). Tim’s bond with his father, strengthened by frequent table tennis games, skipping stones across the sea, and a shared secret of time travel, will reduce any viewer with a heart to a bumbling, sobbing ball of emotions (yes, I cried) (but I wasn’t the only one).
For two hours, Curtis delivers his well-meaning messages: that time is precious, that we must savour every moment, that we should treasure the little things in life that stack up into happiness. “About Time”, while slightly dull and syrupy, has plenty of redeeming points. Filmed in a more intimate, hand-held style than previous Curtis efforts, “About Time” spills over with charm. Gleeson makes a pleasant, quirky leading man; Nighy, as Tim’s father, lights up every scene with his dry charisma; and the laugh-out-loud moments balances the movie’s many lapses into sentimentality. Also, I’m giving “About Time” an extra point for its soundtrack – think The Cure’s “Friday I’m in Love”, Amy Winehouse’s “Back to Black” and Ellie Goulding’s “How Long Will I Love You” (the brand new track was recorded for “About Time” and will feature on her upcoming Halcyon Days repackage album).
Whatever its flaws, “About Time” is the kind of heartfelt, persistently optimistic film that everyone – even the greatest of cynics – needs a dose of from time to time. For God’s sake, switch off your brain and your cool and your “swag” and you know what, just go watch the movie.
Directed by Richard Curtis
Main cast: Domhnall Gleeson, Rachel McAdams, Bill Nighy, Lindsay Duncan
Photo credits to THE GUARDIAN.