D: Richard Curtis / 123m
Cast: Domhnall Gleeson, Rachel McAdams, Bill Nighy, Lydia Wilson, Lindsay Duncan, Richard Cordery, Joshua McGuire, Tom Hollander, Margot Robbie, Will Merrick, Vanessa Kirby
On his 21st birthday, Tim (Gleeson) is let into the big family secret by his dad (Nighy): that the men in the family can time travel. Disbelieving at first, he follows his dad’s instructions and finds it’s all true; he travels back to a fateful New Year’s Eve party and finds he’s able to change some of the things that did or didn’t happen. Tim’s dad further explains the rules: they can’t travel back beyond their birth, they can’t travel forward in time, and they can only travel back to places and events that they can picture in their mind or can remember.
Tim initially uses this gift in order to rewrite awkward moments where he makes embarrassing mistakes, such as squirting a large amount of sun cream over sister Kit Kat’s friend Charlotte (Robbie). Tim’s crush on Charlotte leads to his discovering that no matter how hard he tries, and no matter how many times he manipulates the past, he can’t make someone fall in love with him. Which is just as well because when he meets Mary (McAdams) it’s love at first sight for both of them. But when Tim makes a choice about returning to the night they met and does something different, he finds himself having to woo her all over again as that “something different” has meant they haven’t met (still with me?).
What follows is a series of events and situations requiring Tim’s intervention in the past, some to good effect, and one, involving Kit Kat (Wilson), that has a disastrous consequence requiring Tim to make a difficult reconsideration. All the while, Tim and Mary’s relationship grows stronger, and their friends and families benefit from Tim’s gift.
At the heart of the movie is the relationship between Tim and his dad, a paternal romance that Curtis makes more of than the romance between Tim and Mary. It’s uncomfortably sentimental and cloying at times, and Curtis only just manages to avoid it being completely off-putting, a testament to his skill as a writer, and the performances by Gleeson and Nighy, who portray the close bond the characters have with accomplished finesse. If you like your romantic comedies with a little more bite or a little less mawkish, this isn’t the movie for you. If, however, you don’t mind a couple of hours of breezy, effusive, bright-eyed and bushy-tailed romanticism, then this is definitely the movie to see.
Curtis directs capably if unspectacularly from his own script, and there’s a raft of great performances from the likes of Duncan (as Tim’s mum, acerbic but touching); Cordery as a slightly simple, less aggressive version of Four Weddings and a Funeral‘s Mad Old Man (as played by Kenneth Griffith); McGuire as the hapless Rory, Tim’s colleague; and the ever excellent Hollander as Harry, the scathing, egotistical playwright Tim lives with for a while. As Tim’s first love, and potential moment of weakness once Tim and Mary are together, Robbie does well with a slightly underwritten character (actually more of a plot contrivance), and McAdams, here channelling the spirit of Andie MacDowell (and that’s not a bad thing), breathes life into a role that could have been relentlessly and annoyingly perky in the hands of some actresses.
But when all’s said and done the movie belongs to Gleeson and Nighy. Gleeson, still probably best known for playing Bill Weasley in the Harry Potter movies, steps out from behind that particular shadow and gives a charming, instinctive performance that makes all the absurdities of Curtis’s script – and there are many – far more acceptable to an audience as a result; he’s credible in a way that draws in the viewer and makes Tim seem like a really good friend whose telling you this really good shaggy dog story. And Nighy is just as excellent: diffident, amused (and amusing), relaxed, spontaneous, and a joy to behold. He embraces the character’s foibles and makes virtues of them, grounding the movie also, and having a lot of fun at the same time. It’s a performance made to look so easy you could be forgiven for thinking he wasn’t even trying.
The absurdities of the script can be overlooked because Curtis knows funny, and he uses the absurdities to punch up the humour rather than to drive the story forward. That said, a couple of subplots help pad out the running time unnecessarily, and if Tim uses his gift three or four times too often, by the movie’s end he comes to a much delayed conclusion about the real benefits of time travel, and this offsets the repetition. Curtis is a clever writer, a little under-appreciated for his movie work, but this is a clever movie, with a very clever cast, and a very clever central conceit.
Rating: 8/10 – ignore the naysayers, About Time is another quintessentially English movie from Richard Curtis that entertains from start to finish; blessed with a great cast and enough laugh-out-loud moments to shame a truckload of other comedies, this is a movie that radiates good will and is all the better for it.