Second chances – ★★★½
Richard Curtis returns to the big screen with About Time, a romantic comedy centred around time travel. For some reason the romance genre has always allowed a lot of leeway when it comes to gimmicks that are more at home in the world of science fiction. Think of Mel Gibson’s hair-dryer electrocution in What Women Want, the magical post-box in The Lake House and Eric Bana’s genetic disorder that sends him back in time in The Time Traveller’s Wife.
The magical ability to travel back to revisit moments in your own life is gifted to all men in Tim’s (Domhnall Gleeson) family once they turn 21. Tim’s an unhappy, awkward wannabe lawyer who gets on best with his family – Dad (Bill Nighy), Mum (Lindsay Duncan) and troubled teenage sister “Kit Kat” (Lydia Wilson). Once he discovers his magical ability he uses it sparingly, with the main focus being on getting himself a girlfriend. After realising that no matter how many goes he has at his sister’s friend Charlotte (Margot Robbie) she just won’t like him, he eventually finds love in the delectable form of Mary (Rachel McAdams).
It needs to be said that our very own Domhnall Gleeson is a revelation. It only takes a few minutes to adapt to his mumbling, awkward character, and the media comparisons to Hugh Grant in Four Weddings and a Funeral and Notting Hill are worthy. He has a lot of fun with the role and you can tell he relished leading the cast against such talent. This isn’t a completely new direction for him though as he’s certainly worthy of more than just big romantic comedies, with roles in work from Lenny Abrahamson, Angelina Jolie (yes really) and John Michael McDonagh coming up. Meanwhile Nighy is now so adept at playing himself that you wonder whether we should all be complaining and pushing him to do more, but when he’s this warm, fatherly and comforting a screen presence it’s hard to complain.
There are plenty of things to pick away at if you wanted to find fault in the film. For one, in many way About Time feels like its from a really phoney world. It’s set in England in lovely Cornwall and salubrious London and only features wealthy white people. While this is indeed indicative of life in the bottom left corner of the British Isles, it doesn’t feel very representative of cosmopolitan London. To my count there were about three lines during the film’s two hour runtime spoken by the one non-Caucasian actor who plays Tim’s barrister boss. It’s nitpicking but Curtis really needs to branch out a little bit when writing characters.
There’s not much new here but then again this is the romantic comedy genre where genuine about turns would only upset your audience. The closest thing to a truly original element is the time travelling which leaves the film’s closest brethren in the shape of work like Groundhog Day (1993) and the aforementioned Time Traveller’s Wife (2009), which in a confusing turn also starred McAdams as the romantic lead. Unfortunately the film starts to break its own time travel rules and won’t hold up to much analysis of parallel universes and timelines, but hey is that something that’s going to bother your Mum or older sister, they being the target market for the film?
Despite the flaws this is a fantastically entertaining film for the first 75 minutes, and while the wheels start to come off in the last half hour after the film takes a dramatic twist, it still makes for a far better than average date night movie. Just be aware that this isn’t on the same level as the director’s earlier work – no matter how hard our Domhnall tries.
Released nationwide across Ireland on September 4th 2013
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