I do not consider myself a romantic. I can be romantic – I’ve pulled off some pretty lovely gestures in my day – but I don’t necessarily subscribe to the whole fairy tale notion of love. I am skeptical of the idea of love at first sight and I don’t believe in the concept of each person having one true love. The idea of a soul mate is nice and reassuring, but I tend to believe that there are several people out there for everyone and it just comes down to timing and opportunity. You can be blissfully happy with your partner and that’s wonderful, but that doesn’t mean that under different circumstances that you couldn’t be as blissfully happy with someone else. I believe in love and relationships, but it tends to be a much more practical view that involves romance but also a lot of work and patience; I’m doubtful that love needs to begin with a “meet cute” or an elaborate misunderstanding that keeps two people that are destined to be together separated for approximately 90 minutes.
In other words, I am not the ideal audience for most chick flicks.
Unlike a lot of women I know, I have very little patience for romantic comedies/dramas. While some women swoon over them, I tend to just roll my eyes at the ridiculousness of it all. Part of the problem is a lot of these movies are not particularly well written and have way too may contrived obstacles for the main couple to overcome before they can be together. These movies set up being together as the end goal; most films end when the couple finally declares their love for each other or then skip ahead to their wedding day. There isn’t a lot of time explaining why these two people should be together other than it was meant to be. Clearly this formula works for a lot of other people, but it generally isn’t for me. Y’all enjoy 27 Dresses; I’ll be in line for Django Unchained.
That doesn’t mean that the occasional film from this genre doesn’t catch my eye and that’s exactly what happened with About Time. For whatever reason, the newest film from Richard Curtis (the guy behind Love Actually) piqued my interest. Perhaps it was the English setting, since we all know that I’m a bit of an Anglophile. Perhaps it was the fact that the lead actor was a redhead, which is sort of out of the ordinary for these types of film. It definitely had to do with the presence of the great Bill Nighy, who steals just about every movie that he is in. The addition of time travel, while not completely novel (see The Time Traveler’s Wife), at least offered the promise of something somewhat unique. So when an opportunity for a free screening arose, I decided to take a chance and see if About Time could win over my cold, black heart.
About Time clearly has potential; there are moments when the film is absolutely charming and these are the moments where you see what this film could have been. However, poor execution of the plot and half-baked characters prevent the movie from completely winning me over. When everything came together and the film was firing on all cylinders I quite enjoyed it, but those were just too few and far between. This is far from the worst romantic film that I’ve seen, but I think it is more problematic because it squanders a lot of potential.
The film stars the aforementioned redhead Domhnall Gleeson at Tim, a slightly awkward 21 year old who doesn’t have much luck in the romance department. When he turns 21, his father (Nighy) pulls him aside to let him in on the family secret: the men in their family can travel through time. They just need to go to a dark place, make their hands into fists and visualize the moment that they want to return to. Nighy advises him against using this power for monetary gain and Tim opts to focus his extraordinary ability on finding love; he can now undue all of his awkward encounters with women until he gets his right. This comes in handy in wooing Mary (Rachel McAdams), though Tim discovers that his ability to travel through time can’t fix everything and has consequences.
There are some very sweet performances in About Time; while I am not sure that Domhnall Gleeson can really carry this film as the lead, he is generally affable enough in the bumbling, Hugh Grant sort of way that he is good enough. Bill Nighy is fantastic as the father and the film lights up every time that he is on screen. He really is the best. I also enjoyed Lydia Wilson, who has a supporting role as Tim’s younger sister Kit Kat. I also liked that the film wasn’t just about Tim finding love, but it also dealt with family and the desire to fix their problems. If the premise had just been going back in time and re-doing their dates and encounters, I would have gotten bored with that pretty quickly. So I liked that the film at least attempted to be about be more about two people getting together and that the end goal wasn’t simply to see them walk down the aisle, but to have a life together.
However, I had some pretty big problems with the film that prevented me from fully enjoying it. The first was the piss poor use of time travel. This film sets up the premise pretty quickly and without much preamble, which seemed a little rushed but was fine. I don’t object to the idea of time travel in principle; if you are watching this film you kind of have to buy into the premise or there is no point in going. The issue is that the film makes a point of setting out ground rules on the limitations of this time travel and then abandons them almost immediately and glaringly. They clearly state that you can only go back in time to something that you have already experienced, but the main premise of the film hinges on completely ignoring this fact. It is so sloppy that it is distracting. Don’t bother to set up rules if you have no intention of following them. It’s a recurring issue in the film, as they can’t figure out how to use time travel in a consistent manner. For a film that’s main hook is this power, that’s sort of a problem.
The film also makes the same mistake that is becoming more and more common in films – mistaking quirks for character development. About Time goes out of its way to show how eccentric the members of Tim’s family are, but all that adds up to is a series of weird things that are never revisited. The viewers probably know Tim the best and yet I’d be hard pressed to tell you much about him other than he can travel through time and seems like basically a decent bloke, though kind of an idiot. Most of his problems don’t arise from charming bumbling, but since he simply doesn’t think before he speaks. Rachel McAdams isn’t given much to do as Mary other than be the object of Tim’s affections and look cute with bangs. It’s a role that she can do in her sleep and her inclusion in the film is a little odd since she also starred in The Time Traveler’s Wife. Maybe after Ryan Gosling, she can only date time travelers. Who knows? It’s simply unfortunate that a film that asks you to care about and be invested in these people does so very little to make them developed or well rounded. Not only does the main push of the film (boy loses girl) break the rules of time travel as set, but necessitates you believing that Tim would do something nice for a person that has only been established as unlikable.
Some other thoughts:
- I don’t know if this is some kind of first, but About Time is the first movie I can think of that features two non-related gingers in the main cast.
- I’m assuming that this film was supposed to take place in the relatively recent past, since a lot of this felt pretty dated. The music, in particular, that was played at various parties struck me as very early 2000s. Tim and Mary meet for the first time in a restaurant where you eat in complete darkness, which was trendy a while ago. The League did an episode about one of these places in 2012. Anyway, it was noticeable to me and if that wasn’t what was intended, they are lagging a few years behind.
- I don’t know about you, but if I find out that my boyfriend decided to propose to me after deciding not to sleep with someone else when tempted, I’d be pretty annoyed. That is not at all romantic when you think about it, contrary to what this film tries to tell you.
- I think I’m going to have to give it another watch because I honestly do not get what all the fuss is about Love Actually. Everyone loves that movie – except me. Even people who don’t like romantic comedies or dramas dig that film. I watched it and was utterly unimpressed. I vastly prefer Curtis’ Four Weddings and a Funeral and that’s despite the fact that I thought Andie MacDowell is super annoying (though I haven’t watched that one in a while, so perhaps it doesn’t hold up. The 90s were a simpler time).
- I was far more invested in the scenes involving Tim and his father than Tim and Mary.
There is a lot of promise in About Time, but I unfortunately didn’t think that the film lived up to its fully potential. It is a lot better than most of the nonsense of the genre, but there were too many problems with its overall execution that I was never fully on board with the film. If you are a fan of romantic comedies, I have no doubt that you’ll enjoy About Time. It definitely has its real heartfelt moments and is fairly funny in parts. I would normally chalk up my disappointment in a romantic comedy to it just not being for me, but the problems I had with the film were so easily fixable that I can’t shoulder all the blame for my lack of excitement. As far as romantic comedies go, it’s one of the better ones that I’ve seen in a while. Unfortunately, that just isn’t enough.
About Time opens nationwide on Friday November 8th.