Like “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind,” the filmmakers involved with “About Time” have crafted a science-fiction themed movie without the usual clutter of science-fiction elements. They’ve essentially removed the typical convolution and jargon while still retaining, drifting undeniably in the subconscious, the notion of futuristically outlandish happenings. It’s essentially more fantasy than anything else, with the significance of time travel steadily dispersing as relationships build. This allows a zeroing in on the love story, which is easily the most purposely prominent aspect - and obviously the subject matter writer and director Richard Curtis handles most deftly.
Tim Lake (Domhnall Gleeson) recounts his pleasant childhood, filled with idiosyncratic family members, tea on the beach, table tennis matches with his father James (Bill Nighy), and the traditions of Friday night movies or New Year’s Eve parties. He also reveals a momentous family secret, which affects the men in his family around their 21st birthdays. They have the ability to travel back in time, simply by locating a dark place, clenching their fists, and envisioning a certain point in their lives.
As James explains it, they can’t kill Hitler or shag Helen of Troy, since they didn’t personally interact with those historical figures. But they can return to moments in their pasts, altering things for the better - if they’re perceptive. He warns against using the skill for acquiring money, but doesn’t caution towards wielding it as a tool for directing or managing relationships. When Tim meets Charlotte (Margot Robbie), who stays with his family for a summer, and later Mary (Rachel McAdams), who he falls in love with at a literal blind date (a dinner in the dark), he realizes that being his own cupid can be most beneficial. Although his friends and associates will never be aware of his assistance, he also aids cantankerous playwright Harry Chapman (Tom Hollander), who provides him with a room after he moves to London to become a lawyer, and reckless sister Kit Kat (Lydia Wilson), who can’t seem to meet a decent man.
Curtis’ use of alternately romantic, poignant, and hilarious dialogue seeps into the various roles with genuineness, shaping a bevy of supporting parts that grandly steal the spotlight from the two leads. The continuous soundtrack of familiarly dated songs is also compelling, even though many seem like peculiar selections. The love story is occasionally moving but always amusing, resorting to a few contrivances, assorted emotional manipulations, and classically frivolous sequences that highlight awkwardness between the sexes. On numerous occasions, “About Time” utilizes uncomfortable scenarios to force a laugh – and in the context of an inexperienced, hapless young man readying himself for a preplanned fruitful courtship, it’s largely effective.
And yet due to the time travel inclusion, which is frankly the only idea that sets the film apart from other more memorable theatrical romances, there’s a nagging sense of unexplored areas, undefined results, and errors in continuity or construction. Clearly borrowing from the design of “Groundhog Day,” in which a single day is relived over and over, “About Time” deviates to allow a controlled experimentation of revisiting past experiences. The existence of the butterfly effect is quickly dismissed, as well as journeying into the future. By acknowledging the ability to redo the past, then jump ahead to a changed present, there is still a level of navigation to the future – especially considering that a stream of consciousness or awareness doesn’t spontaneously update the trekker as to the alterations that may have taken place over a period of years. In the end, it’s the comical repetitions of failed exchanges or actions that occur within a matter of minutes that hold the most weight – and not the deeper theme of living each day to the fullest.
- The Massie Twins (GoneWithTheTwins.com)