Directed by Richard Curtis
A man closes his eyes and watches as repeated faces and would-be scenarios whip past like pictures in a photo album: his first child’s birth, his wedding day, the rainy London commute to the office and the day he played on the beach with his father so many years ago as a child. He opens his eyes and finds himself in that last moment that crosses his mind, the one that he wants to relive. Dubiously nostalgic, “About Time” comes with the feel-good side effects typical of romantic comedy but lacks the nerve of a true drama and the believability of a well-structured sci-fi.
After a rather unsatisfactory New Year’s Eve, unlucky-in-love Tim Lake (Domhnall Gleeson) learns the most unlikely of things: He can travel through time. A birthright passed down from father to son, all Tim has to do is find an unlit space and imagine any moment he wants to revisit. Tim’s father (Bill Nighy) cautions Tim to use this advantage wisely to craft the kind of life he truly wants to live. Naturally, Tim chooses to use his newfound powers for the only reason he deems worthwhile — to find a girlfriend.
When not even time travel can make his summertime crush, Charlotte (Margot Robbie), love him, the aspiring lawyer moves to London where he meets the girl of his dreams, the funny but insecure Mary (Rachel McAdams). But when Tim decides to change the past to save his curmudgeonly flatmate’s career and keep his whimsical sister Kit Kat (Lydia Wilson) from a life of alcoholism and heartbreak, he puts his own happy future at jeopardy and must maneuver the tricky laws of time travel to try to save his future.
Writer and director Richard Curtis, whose previous work includes “Love Actually” and “Four Weddings and a Funeral,” has crafted witty sentimentality at its best. However, his latest — and rumored last — film in a directorial role might be a little too soft-hearted to impress even fans of his past work. Though Tim and Mary’s whirlwind romance is admittedly adorable, the story seems more concerned with plot than character depth, which detracts from its dramatic quality.
Tim’s initial boyish idealism and endearing awkwardness doesn’t fade soon enough to allow a convincing transformation of his character from late adolescence to adulthood. His life lessons are received without real consequence, so his role as the hero of the story is not as believable. Love-of-his-life Mary is nice but passive in most regards, and her importance becomes less obvious once she acquires the responsibilities of motherhood. Both characters become so wrapped up in building the “perfect life” that each obtained milestone becomes more of a token than an accomplishment, a product of a script without true motivation. Tim and Mary struggle to keep attention once the young-love magic fades, and their roles grow old and comfortable, along with Curtis’ direction.
The film suffers from being too long, at risk of stretching itself too thin. Curtis tries to tell a love story, not just between a girl and boy, but also between husband and wife, brother and sister, father and son. In the end, preaching the moral of the story becomes more important than the marvelous journey promised with the introduction of time travel, a concept that is squandered as more of a plot point than a true narrative device. Though tragedy strikes Tim and his loved ones time and again, his convenient ability to alter reality often serves as a quick fix, negating any true emotional impact that comes with the honest losses in love and life that are characteristic of realistic fiction. Instead of adding dimension to the narrative, Tim’s pedestrian use of time travel lowers the stakes and slows the pace of the film.
However, the merit of this film lies in Curtis’ practiced ability to pleasantly entertain. The light-hearted dialogue between characters generates many genuine laughs that keep the audience engaged. “About Time” is laudable for its comedic quirks but only dabbles in time travel and consequently fails to deliver suspenseful drama.