About Time

Movie Information

The Story: A romantic comedy fantasy more or less grounded in the idea that our main character can travel back in time. The Lowdown: Utterly charming, funny and touching, the film finds writer-director Richard Curtis at the peak of his game — and with just the cast to bring it to life. Unless you're a hopeless curmudgeon, this is a must-see. If you are a hopeless curmudgeon, this may help cure that.
Genre: Romantic Comedy Fantasy
Director: Richard Curtis (Love Actually)
Starring: Domhnall Gleeson, Rachel McAdams, Bill Nighy, Lydia Wilson, Lindsay Duncan, Tom Hollander, Joshua McGuire
Rated: R

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

About Ken Hanke
Head film critic for Mountain Xpress from December 2000 until his death in June 2016. Author of books "Ken Russell's Films," "Charlie Chan at the Movies," "A Critical Guide to Horror Film Series," "Tim Burton: An Unauthorized Biography of the Filmmaker."

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33 thoughts on “About Time

  1. Jeremy Dylan

    As a bonus, you get two nice cameos — one from Richard E. Grant and one from Richard Griffiths (his last film).

    Best of all, they share scenes together in a mini-WITHNAIL reunion.

    Terrific review Ken. You encapsulated my own feelings toward the film neatly and I hope it encourages all readers of the Xpress to flock to their most local cinema posthaste.

  2. Big Al

    The preview looks like a rom-com/drama variation on the butterfly-effect (from the sci-fi short story, not the movie). I hope to see this before it leaves. How much longer do you think it will be in town?

  3. Ken Hanke

    It did okay last weekend at The Carolina, but not gangbusters. So it’s at least there through next Thursday. It may actually pick up this weekend, since it won’t be in as much competition with 12 Years a Slave. (And, yes, there’s a lot of crossover on the demographic — skews older, more serious moviegoer.) I’ll know better on Monday.

  4. Jeremy Dylan

    The trailer stinks. The movie is wonderful.

    There’s no excuse for not going to see it if it’s playing anywhere in your vicinity.

  5. Steven

    I have to admit that I was surprised at Ken’s reaction. The trailer seemed so schmaltzy and cringe-worthy that I wasn’t expecting anything of merit. I’m being forced to see it no matter what due to the wife, but I’m kinda looking forward to it now.

  6. Ken Hanke

    I am not 100% sure I ever saw the trailer. I saw the name Richard Curtis and I needed to know nothing more. At the same time, my tolerance for certain types of schmaltz may be higher than yours.

  7. Edwin Arnaudin

    Rachel McAdams is lovely, but she may be the 5th or even 6th best thing going for this wonderful film.

  8. Ken Hanke

    Mr. Curtis’s screenplay being the first.

    His direction being the second (or on par with the first).

  9. Ken Hanke

    Since you’ve seen it what did you think of their points?

    Whose points? What are you asking?

  10. Ken Hanke

    I’m delighted to report that this took a huge leap up at The Carolina box office on its second week.

  11. Ken Hanke

    Nothing delayed about it. The review didn’t come out until after the first weekend.

  12. Ken Hanke

    I thought you might have wanted to read it since you’ve seen the film

    Probably not. From the sound of the title, I’ve read a couple of rations of tosh like it.

  13. Jeremy Dylan

    Pleased to discover this morning that this has actually turned a tidy profit while I wasn’t looking. It’s grossed about $60 million on a $12 million budget.

    Not as successful as it deserves to be, but still pleasant news considering the press narrative on its disappointing returns.

  14. Ken Hanke

    If you call them on it, the standard press answer will be that it’s still a disappointment in relative terms. (The press is never wrong.) Funny thing is…that’s a very respectable number for a movie with a cast of people who have never actually carried a movie at the box office.

  15. Big Al

    “Big Al i rolled my eyes at the trailer too.”

    I don’t know where “Me” got the idea that I did not like the trailer, I just think the plot bears a striking resemblance to that of the famous sci-fi short story “The Butterfly Effect”, which warns of the unintended consequences of trying to change the past to make the present better.

    I haven’t been able to drag myself out of the house to see this yet (It was sheer coincidence that I saw “Philomena”, which was excellent) and I hope it hangs around a while, as my schedule for December is pretty tight.

  16. Me

    Ken, have you ever seen Blackadder? It was mentioned by Patton Oswalt on his TCM guest programmer spot.

  17. Ken Hanke

    I don’t know where “Me” got the idea that I did not like the trailer

    “Me’s” perceptions are often perplexing.

    I haven’t been able to drag myself out of the house to see this yet (It was sheer coincidence that I saw “Philomena”, which was excellent) and I hope it hangs around a while, as my schedule for December is pretty tight.

    My guess is that you have till the 19th to see it. There are so many films opening in the 20th to 25th range…

  18. Me


    Is it any good? I watched that last scene out of context on Youtube and it looked like one of the greatest TV endings i had ever seen.

    “The preview looks like a rom-com/drama variation on the butterfly-effect”

    I guess i misunderstood you, but that sounds like one of the worst descriptions of a film i have ever heard, i thought you agreed.

  19. Ken Hanke

    Is it any good?

    It’s fine. It’s just not quite my sort of thing. My interest in these TV things is largely ephemeral.

  20. Jeremy Dylan

    As someone with more time for television than Ken, I’ll say that Blackadder is brilliant from season 2 through 4. The first season is very uneven, and a lot of kinks were worked out between the first and second season.

    Season two is when Stephen Fry joins the cast, Ben Elton comes on board as co-writer with Curtis and the show really finds it’s tone.

  21. Me

    I have a new respect for Hugh Laurie too after discovering Jeeves and Wooster. Im glad that Netflix and Hulu are streaming a lot of these UK shows i would have otherwise never seen, like The Thick of It, Snuff Box, Peep Show.

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