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About Time

Posted by martinteller on November 4, 2013

At the age of 21, just a few months before embarking on a law career in London, Tim (Domhnall Gleeson) is told something amazing by his father (Bill Nighy): all male members of the family are able to travel in time.  More accurately, they are able to travel back to any moment in their own past (i.e., no Hitler-killing for Tim).  As a slightly awkward, vaguely lonely fellow, Tim wants to put his newfound powers to romantic use.  His first attempt is with the alluring Charlotte (Margot Robbie), a visiting friend of his free-spirited sister Kit Kat (Lydia Wilson).  But Tim learns that time travel can’t make someone fall in love with you.  It’s only when the spark is already there — as it with Mary (Rachel McAdams) — that his ability can be put to good use.

This plot description (as well as the theatrical trailer) does the film a disservice, painting it as a Groundhog Day scenario where Tim must keep trying over and over to win Mary’s heart.  The truth is, they settle into a romance rather early on, and the movie expands in other directions.  It’s not a movie that gets fussy about time travel… you could certainly poke holes in the device, if you were so inclined.  But the film isn’t overly concerned with Tim’s power or how he uses it.  It’s a mechanism for seeking out deeper truths about how we view our lives and get the most out of them.  For the most part, Tim’s courting of Mary isn’t all about crafting the perfect introduction or manipulating things in his favor (though the whole Kate Moss pretense is a bit skeevy).  Rather, he uses his power sparingly, slightly tweaking a moment here and there not necessarily to gain an advantage, but to make life more joyous for both of them.

And as I said, it’s not just a portrait of a courtship.  Writer/director Richard Curtis (Love Actually, Notting Hill, Four Weddings and a Funeral, among others) takes us along the journey of their developing relationship, an expansive (but not too expansive) timeline that picks up major events in the lives of Tim and his family.  A thread involving Kit Kat makes the best of a practically no-win situation, eschewing explosive dramatics in favor of a more pat resolution… but at least it’s one that feels deserved.

Because the great joy of this film is seeing nice people treat each other nicely.  The relationship between Tim and Mary is completely charming.  The relationship between Tim and his father is completely charming.  The relationship between Tim and Kit Kat is completely charming.  The relationships between Tim and his flawed friends (Joshua McGuire, Will Merrick) are completely charming.  Even the bitter playwright that Tim rooms with (the wonderful Tom Hollander, most fondly remembered by me for his work with Armando Iannucci) is completely charming.  This movie charmed the goddamn pants off of me, and got me choked up at several points.  It’s such a lovely little film, delighting in human foibles and the richness of rewarding connections.  It’s hard not to love these people, not to care about what happens to them.  And Curtis’s treatment of them is loving and tender, giving them obstacles without beating them over the head.  The performances are all very endearing, even McAdams who never left much of an impression on me before.

We have all made mistakes we would love to go back and correct.  What About Time seems to say most of all is that these “mistakes” are often part of what makes life so wonderful, so rewarding.  It’s perhaps a film that will strike some as fluffy and lightweight, but it’s absolutely lovely.  I went to see this with my girlfriend, on a whim more than anything else, not expecting much.  I left with a big smile on face, laughter in my heart, and some tears in my eyes.  Rating: Very Good (89)


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