What if you could travel back - not forward - through time, able to only revisit specific moments in your past? Which moments would you return to? What would you change? This is the lofty - and gimmicky - premise of About Time (opening today), a romantic comedy that bites off way more than it can possibly chew.
Domhnall Gleeson (son of actor Brenda Gleeson) stars as Tim, a young boy longing to love and be loved. A girl at a party is eagerly awaiting a kiss from him one New Year's Eve night, but upon the final tick of the clock, Tim instead nervously gives her a hand shake. Shortly thereafter, Tim's father (the wonderful Bill Nighy) calls him in and shares with him an important family secret: That Tim - like all of the men in his family - have the ability to travel back in time. All's Tim has to do is find a dark place, close his fists and think of a moment from his past. He feels like his father is playing a joke at his expense, but when he tries it, wouldn't you know...his father wasn't lying.
So Tim goes back and plants a kiss on this girl at the New Year's Eve party, mostly to demonstrate the premise of his abilities. Soon after, he meets a beautiful friend, Charlotte (Margot Robbie) and he tries over and over - Groundhog's Day-style - to win her over. Tim soon realizes that there are limitations to his "powers," one of which is that he cannot simply make someone else love him.
Rachel McAdams shows up as Mary, yet another woman that catches Tim's eye. But this one is a bit different: She is actually reciprocating his feelings.
Things get increasingly more complex when Tim's sprite of a sister, Kit Kat (Lydia Watson) continues to make bad choices. Tom Hollander shows up as the brutally bitter playwright, Harry, who also complicates matters. Then all crap hits the proverbial fan when children are introduced to Tim's time-traveling rulebook.
As with all time-travel movies, we are asked to suspend our belief. Rarely (if ever) is a film's time-travel theory air-tight. About Time fails miserably the "time-travel test," where if you apply the film's own logic, much of it doesn't add up. Here we are asked not only to suspend our disbelief, but to check our intelligence and ability for critical thought at the door.
But About Time's inconsistencies aside, the film's real flaw is that it tries to be much more than a romantic comedy. It is also a father/son story, a brother/sister story and countless others. And it's as manipulative as they come. It is written and directed by Richard Curtis - no stranger to the rom-com - who had previously directed Love, Actually and wrote Four Weddings and a Funeral, Bridget Jones's Diary and Notting Hill. Here, with help from an over-bearing musical score, we are told exactly what to feel at all times, culminating in a Hallmark card of an ending that beats us over the head with the film's theme of "live every day as if it were your last."
Many of the people in the film exist not as real people, but as characters filling out Tim's 2-dimensional world...cliches or caricatures that allow him interaction with all sorts of different types. There is a lot to like, mostly stemming from the likeability of Gleeson and the sugary-sweetness that just permeates through the screen whenever Rachel McAdams adorns it.
Hollander and Richard Cordery (as clueless Uncle D) get the most laughs - and there are several - but the emotional heart of the film is found in the relationship between Tim and his father. Bill Nighy's performance is a good one. Look also for an uncredited bit part from the late Richard Griffiths - best known more recently for his role as Harry Potter's adoptive father and for films like Withnail and I (or yes, as Dr. Meinheimer/Earl Hacker in The Naked Gun 2 1/2) - who died back in March at the age of 65. About Time was his last film role.
Perhaps if it had been a bit more focused, a bit more scaled-down, About Time might have resonated a bit more. It's hard to call it conventional, since most rom-coms don't include time-travel, but it does work on that level, as a passable entry into the genre. It just reaches way too far and is a jumble of too many themes and ideas.
And although I love Rachel McAdams as the ultimate fantasy girl - the modern-day Meg Ryan and perfect for this kind of roles - wouldn't everyone agree that she's pretty much saturated the romantic comedy genre? It's about time that we see her in other sorts of movies.
Genre: Comedy, Drama, Sci-Fi
Run Time: 2 hours, 3 minutes, Rated R
Starring: Domhnall Gleeson, Rachel McAdams, Bill Nighy, Tom Hollander, Lydia Wilson, Lindsay Duncan
Written & Directed by Richard Curtis (Love Actually, Pirate Radio)
Opens locally on Friday, Nov 1, 2013 (check for show times).
Be sure to watch Tom Santilli on TV! Check your local listings for “Movie Show Plus” for Tom’s weekly movie review segment, airing at 10:30 p.m. EST every Sunday, on MYTV20 in Detroit.
How to read Tom Santilli's "Star Ratings:"
- 5 Stars: Exceptional, must-see movie
- 4 Stars: Very good movie, not without flaws
- 3 Stars: The movie was just OK, leaves a lot to be desired
- 2 Stars: Pretty bad, a let-down, disappointing, but with some redeeming qualities
- 1 Star: Awful, sloppy, a total waste of time