Director: Richard Curtis
Cast: Domhnall Gleeson, Rachel McAdams, Bill Nighy, Lydia Wilson
Watch About Time online in the UK: TalkTalk TV / iTunes / Amazon Intant Video / Rakuten TV / Google Play
“For me it was always going to be about love…”
Ever since Love Actually, it’s been easy to take against Richard Curtis films. Typically full of white middle-class people living in expensive homes, their attempts to find The One – while swearing like common folk – are often predictable, repetitive and hard to empathise with.
About TIme appears to be no exception. It is the story of Tim (Gleeson), a white middle-class boy from a white middle-class family that owns an estate on the coast of Cornwall. Then comes the first curveball: all the men in Tim’s family are able to travel through time. A time travel rom-com, you think, how quaint. And, sure enough, things seem to follow Richard’s usual rules, with Tim heading to London to make his way, shacking up with an odd couple roommate (Tom Hollander) and, of course, swearing like a commoner. Inevitably, Tim meets Mary (McAdams) and falls head over chronological heels.
Curtis has fun with his usual rom-com tropes, although things soon take a turn for the dark, with Tim erasing their first date before effectively stalking Mary to set up another, then having sex with her multiple times until she thinks he’s a stallion in the sack. It’s a little bit creepy – let’s just say you can tell it was written by a man – but the bumbling Domnhall Gleeson and ambitious Rachel McAdams are likeable enough (and Tom Hollander is funny enough) for Rich to get away with it.
If that’s all there was to About Time, things would be par for the course; satisfactory for die-hard Curtis fans and insufferable for naysayers. All of the above, though, is just the first half of the movie, because despite Tim’s earnest introductory voiceover, this isn’t actually about romance at all. This film is, as its title suggests, about time. And not time in the Doctor Who sense, but time in the sense of looking to the future. The central relationship, it soon turns out, isn’t Tim and Mary at all; it’s Tim and his dad.
This is the point when that other Richard Curtis staple pops his head up: Bill Nighy. But while Bill brings his familiar charm to the role, all elbows and eyebrows, Curtis uses him to do something hugely unexpected: to explore the cyclical nature of parenthood.
Building a believable bond with his son, Bill and Domnhall are a natural screen couple. Combined, they take Curtis’ taste for syrup and water it down into a sincere, sweet drama – there is genuine warmth here that earns its laughs and tears without forcing them. And however you feel about the filmmaker’s previous work, there is a skill to eliciting such a reaction from an audience.
As for that sci-fi stuff, time travel, as a gift passed down through Tim’s family, ultimately becomes a way for each generation to come to terms with loss and life. There are wibbly-wobbly plot holes if you look carefully – Tim breaks his own timey-wimey rules several times – but Curtis is interested in the emotional impact of time travel, not the scientific. By the time the logic gaps appear, you’ll be too busy crying to notice.
The result is a movie that’s a long way from the director’s typical sex-swear-marry formula, which teaches everyone to find a partner. In fact, About Time is Richard Curtis’ most mature film to date. And if takes him a white middle-class family living in an expensive home attempting to find The One while swearing like common folk to tackle such ambitious topics, then screw it, darling, there’s no use crying over spilt champagne on the billiards table.
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