I think of myself as something of a cynic. Others probably think that even more than I do. But when I see some (some, mind you) of the reviews from my critical … uh, brethren on Richard Curtis’ About Time, I realize I am a rank amateur in the cynic sweepstakes—at least where critics are concerned. Frankly, I’m happy to retain my amateur standing, since this complete charmer of a movie delighted me from start to finish. In fact, About Time may well be the two most purely pleasurable hours I’ve spent in the cinema all year. It may be worth noting that the same was true of Curtis’ other two directorial efforts—Love Actually (2003) and Pirate Radio (2009)—in their respective years. In other words, Curtis obviously does something in his movies that strongly appeals to me. He comes from a place I understand and relate to. This is no exception.
The film is a kind of high-concept affair, owing to its fanciful time-travel premise. The men in Tim’s (Domhnall Gleeson—son of Brendan) family can travel backwards in time. They cannot travel forward and there are limits and stipulations about where they can go and what they can do (one of which we find out fairly late in the proceedings). All they require is a solitary dark space—cupboards are best, lavatories will do—clinched fists and a time. Tim’s dad (the indispensable Bill Nighy) cautions him against such obvious pursuits as making money, pointing out that that was what his grandfather did and it made him miserable. Dad himself uses it to find the time to read (there turns out to be another reason, but that’s the film’s secret, not mine). Tim’s primary interest, it turns out, is love (no big surprise in a Curtis romantic comedy). His interests are not just libidinous, however. He’s looking for that Great Romance. And he’s a genuinely nice guy—his first time trip is to go back to the previous night’s New Year’s Eve party in order to kiss the girl he’s with rather than hurt her feelings.
His efforts at finding love are not particularly easy. The first is a disaster. The second looks to be smooth sailing when he meets, charms and gets Mary’s (Rachel McAdams) phone number—without benefit of time travel. Unfortunately, when he does time travel in order to help out his surly, sarcastic writer friend Harry (a very funny Tom Hollander), it erases Tim’s meeting with Mary altogether. Meeting her again proves tricky. And that’s as much as I’m going to say about the time travel business—in large part because time travel isn’t ultimately what the film is about. It does play a significant part, and is used with great wit, invention and feeling—but the film is about much deeper subjects. The problem is that it’s hard to put what those subjects are into words without seeming trite—yet they are not trite in the film. I am inclined to go the route of a friend of mine, who saw the film much earlier in Australia, and just say, “Trust me. See this movie.” I’ll simply add that if you loved Love Actually, you will probably experience a similar feeling here.
Yes, it’s a little old-fashioned, but that’s not a bad thing, especially when the sentiment is obviously sincere, the writing crisp and witty and the performances absolutely top-drawer. As a bonus, you get two nice cameos—one from Richard E. Grant and one from Richard Griffiths (his last film). It’s always charming, often very funny and, yes, it will probably make you cry. Supposedly, this is Curtis’ final film as a director—a statement he couched in “how I feel now” phrases. That would be a great pity, but if it’s true, he’s going out on a high note. Oh, yes, and trust me—see this movie. Rated R (somewhat absurdly) for language and some sexual content.
Playing at Carolina Cinemas, Epic of Hendersonville, Regal Biltmore Grande