Richard Curtis, the writer/director of Love Actually, returns with another story of sweet romance, heart-wrenching sadness and admittedly maudlin sentimentality. The yarn is About Time, a bizarre sounding movie that’s actually pretty basic.
In his early twenties, Tim (Domhnall Gleeson) sits down for a chat with his father (Bill Nighy) after another evening of bungling female advances. Dad has some news for Tim; not the normal kind. Apparently the men in Tim’s family can travel through time, though only to moments in one’s own life and, apparently, no further into the future than the moment you started said venture. Tim is skeptical, before attempting the deed himself, which requires dark surroundings and clenched fists. The smooch he failed to garner on New Year’s is his destination and, wouldn’t you know, dear ol’ dad wasn’t kidding. Said smooch happens and a whole new world is open to Tim.
Those interested in finer details of time-travel need not apply. The famous butterfly effect isn’t hanging over our protagonist’s head, at least only to a limited degree. Tim also isn’t attempting to become the world’s greatest hero hoping save everyone he can. No, as he puts it plainly, the ability is used for love; romantic and familial. The strikeouts of the past will be just that for Tim, in his ever so charming Curtis-ian way, is seeking out the one. Said one appears to be Mary (Rachel McAdams), an American living in London with a mousey demeanor and a strange appreciation for Kate Moss. Curtis plays around in the Groundhog Day pit a little with how Tim tries to woo Mary, but only after a bit of time-jumping wackiness erases their sensational first date.
Initially, About Time flirts with merely being a cute love story featuring the witty one-liners Curtis is deservedly well known for crafting. Yes, those are here. There is that thread, and its capably told. McAdams is fun and more laid-back than she usually is in her performances, bringing a soft, though not delicate, approach to Mary. She sparks with Gleeson suitably as well. Yet, it’s really the bond between Gleeson’s Tim and Nighy that will be most celebrated. Each one of their moments is pretty marvelous, from the goofy ping-pong matches to the sadness that creeps into the picture as Nighy’s character takes a medical turn for the worse. Of course, how that plays out is a little different than your normal narrative surrounding a sick parent; time-travelling and all that jazz.
Nighy and Gleeson really are wonderful in a way that’s borderline ridiculous. Nighy has maybe a little over ten minutes of screen-time, but I am fine throwing him a couple awards anyways. His play on lines sad and witty always surprise. The goofy way he prepares Tim for the big time revelation by stating, “Get ready for spooky time,” is splendid. Gleeson is a welcome presence to the leading man world. A veteran of Harry Potter, Gleeson made notable supporting turns in Never Let Me Go and especially in last year’s Anna Karenina. Son of the terrific Brendan Gleeson, Domhnall is effortlessly sweet-natured, an easy persona to root for.
It’s too bad there’s a but. There are a few rules Curtis establishes that feel cheated by the end. It’s the type of story where this doesn’t totally matter, even if it bugs slightly nevertheless. Then there is the issue with Tim’s sister Kit Kat (Lydia Wilson). She is the free-spirit type, described as one of the most fantastic people in the world by Tim. A plot about her life falling to pieces pops its head in on occasion to little impact and, more troubling, seems to insinuate that people could get over his or her alcoholism by just settling down with a nice someone.
Despite these issues, About Time is an easy recommendation, with its good comfortably outweighing its nagging weaknesses. There are merely too many fun beats and moving gestures along the way to call this anything other than worthwhile.
About Time opens in Seattle tomorrow.