Directed by Richard Curtis
Birthed 8 November 2013
For the molly-coddled masses out there, About Time is perfect holiday pabulum. For everybody else, it’s an alarmingly unimaginative and dull escapade.
Consider this movie’s pedigree and be duly warned. It comes from the same mind that brought the world Notting Hill, Four Weddings and a Funeral and Love Actually. This time there’s a fairly interesting premise to play with and opportunity abounds to make a worthwhile statement about how one spends time during this experiential thing called life.
Well, any high-mindedness that might have been present when the concept was born has since been obliterated. The tale told in About Time is utterly generic and it is supported by a cast of characters that is bland beyond reason. Rachel McAdams (The Time Traveler’s Wife) is the very personification of all things cute and yet she’s relegated to playing a character, named Mary, with no uniquely identifiable personality traits. She’s frumpy. She’s bookish. She’s a huge fan of Kate Moss. Okay. That last bit qualifies as quirky. But... Kate Moss fandom does not form the basis for a solid, compelling character.
Then there’s the boy. Domnhall Gleeson (Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows) gives every average Joe reason to sit up and take notice for one mundane reason. His character is so uninteresting it’s incredible that he’s able to settle down with Rachel McAdams. Then again, it’s a dull, frumpy character played by McAdams who is so enchanted by this boy that she beds him the same night they meet.
In fairness, that boy – named Tim (a terrific Monty Python joke decades ago) – does possess one incredible ability. He can go into a closet, clench his fists and travel back in time.
Time After Time
Rachel McAdams as frumpy Mary
Tom Hollander gets the movie's best laughs
Photo: Universal Pictures
As it turns out, all of the men in Tim’s family can travel back in time. Tim’s father, creatively named Dad (Bill Nighy, Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest), never explains why the women can’t perform this trick, but roll with it. Thinking too hard about this muddled flight of fancy and fantasy will only elevate the level of disappointment. The men can go back in time but they can’t visit the future and they can only revisit events in their own life history. There’s no going back to redirect Hugh Grant’s career, for example.
In short order, those rules are broken as Tim attends a play he hadn’t attended before in order to save a relative’s play from critical damnation, only to mess up his extraordinarily successful blind date with Mary, causing him to have to alternatively meet her – for the first time – at a Kate Moss exhibit. Who knew Kate Moss had “history,” but Mary is adamant that she does and Tim wields that bit of knowledge like King Arthur with Excalibur.
Dad tells Tim his ability to travel in time will allow him to pursue the life he wants to live. And so it is that Tim’s biggest driving ambition is to have a girlfriend. Before the chirping starts, full acknowledgment is made right here, right now, there is nothing more noble than starting up a family and ushering in the next generation to fight all the battles previous generations punt to future generations.
But, as far as a movie-going experience is concerned, the storyline as told here doesn’t pack much punch.
Dad’s idea of a worthwhile life is to travel back in time so he can read every book – and pore through Dickens three times over. In comparison, Tim’s use of time travel to revisit opportunities lost – such as a New Year’s Eve kiss – is downright rip-roaring. Dear ol’ Dad, wouldn’t it have been better – at least from an audience stimulation viewpoint – to have used that time to brush up on all of the world’s religions and wars in order to understand how we’ve collectively arrived at the current messy state of things?
Then again, Dickens is safely admired.
But another big-ticket item is also given short-shrift in an effort to create only the slightest bit of dramatic tension. There are, of course, rules in regard to birth and death. Going back to a time prior to a baby’s birth risks a different baby from the one which may have already been born. That poses an interesting conundrum that is totally glossed over when Dad falls ill.
What if one baby is a mess-up but a different iteration is the next Bono? Drats! The inability to see the future is so unfair.
Sorry, Pops. These are rhetorical questions for you to mull over on your own time.
Amid the cookie-cutter characters there’s Uncle D (Richard Cordery, Les Miserables) , who is so generic as to be absolutely unnecessary, and Tim’s sister, Kit Kat (Lydia Wilson, Never Let Me Go) who, shockingly, has a thing for bad boys. The one guy who really brings some animation to the screen is Tom Hollander (who co-starred with Nighy in Dead Man’s Chest) as Harry, an egotistical playwright with no internal editor. He speaks his mind and he speaks it loudly. When Hollander’s on screen, the movie finally gets some energy. Despite the fact that the snippets seen of his play seem to be every bit as dull as About Time itself, the critical reception to that play is full of hyperbole – “genius” is bandied about with ease. This movie should be so lucky.
Domnhall Gleeson plays a ping-pong fan
As the story unfolds, the emphasis is on the wonder of life’s day-to-day activities. The travelogue pearls of wisdom are of a trite variety that hasn’t been seen on screen to this magnitude since Eat Pray Love.
Among those gems is the reminder to live each day to the fullest, as if it’s your last. Better yet, Dad advises Tim should live each day twice (given he can do that fist-clenching thing). Live it once to acknowledge the pain and go back through to relish the joy. Naturally, all of us normal people have to make do with one go and take the pain and the joy all in one lump sum experience. And please don’t forget that ping-pong is life.
And so it is, amid that uninspired exultation of life, people are seen living life to the fullest – which through writer-director Richard Curtis' rose-colored lenses equates to reading a book on a park bench or buying a cup of java. For some, that very well might be satisfactory enough and it’s surely the kind of note with which to end a film designed to send people off on their merry way to a coffee and marzipan.
Sure, life’s big events are at work here. There’s the wedding, the baby, the accident, and the death (hmm... maybe that’d work as a better title instead of About Time).
In the end, once all is said and done, there’s the harsh realization that About Time is two hours of time viewers will never get back.
• Originally published at MovieHabit.com.