Title: About Time
Written By: Richard (Script) Curtis
Publication Info: 2013
Genre: Science Fiction/Fantasy
It is frustrating that About Time is marketed as a movie that is a romantic comedy about time travel, because it’s not a romantic comedy and it’s not about time travel. It left me crying like a baby and laughing like a maniac, but it sure doesn't make much sense.
About Time is the story of Tim (Domhnall Gleeson), who comes from a quirky and adorable family. They are pretty twee, actually, but I have a weakness for quirky, twee families so I was fine with them. There’s mom, dad, and manic pixie dream girl Kit-Kat, and Tim, and they all have tea on the beach in Cornwall every day, regardless of the weather, and watch movies outdoors on Fridays (with umbrellas in case of rain).
When Tim turns 21, his father (the funny and gentle Bill Nighy) reveals a secret to him. All the men in the family, starting at age 21, have the ability to travel in time, but only to places and times they’ve actually been in the past. In a sense, they have the ability to rewind their lives. Tim’s father lays out some time travel rules, but they are very few and they tend to be broken without consequence or explanation. Because of the lack of consistency or logic to the time travel element, I’d argue that this movie is neither science fiction nor fantasy. It is, however, very lovely poetry. Don’t expect it to make any sense. If someone says, “But why?” just cover your ears and chant “Metaphor, metaphor, metaphor…”
So, to get back to the story – Tim’s father encourages Tim to think of what will really make him happy, and Tim longs for a girlfriend. He tries to woo a summer friend of his sister’s, but he can’t make it work, thus setting up the point, “All the time travelling in the world can’t make someone love you”. That doesn’t stop him from using it again when he meets Mary (Rachel McAdams). Commence rom-com element.
The romantic comedy elements of the movie are charming, but they comprise a very small portion of the actual film, which is much more about fathers and sons, and growing up to appreciate life in its fragility and mundaneness. Towards the end of the movie, Tim describes his “Extraordinary, ordinary life”. And that’s what the movie is about, above all. Tim and Mary get married, they have babies, Tim works as a lawyer, stuff happens, and it’s all ordinary stuff. Where the movie shines is in its portrayal of ordinary moments. For instance, there’s a scene where Mary and Tim are getting ready to go to a dinner that is very important for Mary professionally, and she wants Tim to help her pick what dress she will wear. This scene goes on and on and it is hilarious and true. The movie takes its time on stuff like that – the beats of courtship and of marriage.
But weirdly, even though this film is populated with an assortment of strong-willed women, they are all so very much backstage, so profoundly secondary to Tim’s story, that they are almost invisible. None of the women ever know the time travelling secret (with one temporary exception). So Tim and his father relate to each other on a level that no one else can meet. I understand that there’s some storytelling economy at work here, but surely this movie could have centered around Tim and his father without so completely excluding the women from the foreground. I couldn’t watch the loving marriages between Tim’s parents and between Tim and Mary without remembering that they are built on secrets and that Mary is constantly having her feelings manipulated by Tim’s actions. I couldn’t watch Tim and his father without feeling horribly jealous on behalf of Kit-Kat, who isn’t invited to these secret chats.
I have to confess that I have epic daddy issues and accordingly I started crying approximately halfway through the movie (the father’s speech at the wedding did it – he forget to say “I love you” to his son and he time travels back a few minutes so he can get it right, cue sobbing) and just kept going. I cried so hard I thought I would have to leave so I wouldn’t disturb my fellow moviegoers. This movie grabbed all my baggage and beat me over the head with it until I was a sodden mass of emotion.
And if you can tolerate a degree of cutesiness the movie is absolutely charming. Mary and Tim have great chemistry and there are so many standout moments. I’m still giggling over Mary telling Tim that she will remove one item of clothing for every decision he makes about the wedding, and Tim’s comment about his very young daughter learning to use a paper shredder at just the wrong moment (“In my defense, I had no idea she knew how to operate that. It’s impressive, really!”).
And since I saw the movie, I’ve been spending a few less minutes looking at my phone and a few more looking around me. I was very moved by the movie’s message, which is basically “Live in the now”. It’s not a very original message, but it’s still important. I’ve been appreciating my own “extraordinary, ordinary life” more. When I staggered out into the lobby, tears all over me (EPIC daddy issues, you guys, just huge), still giggling about the funny bits, and all heart warmed about the value of living in the moment, I’d have given this movie an ‘A’. But as a few days have passed, I’ve been left with a sour aftertaste. I know time travel is a poetical device here, but it did have to be THAT sloppy? I know the movie is about Tim basically learning to be a man, but do the women have to be THAT secondary?
To sum up: the movie fails as a time travel movie, because there is no mechanism for what happens and no consistency in the rules. It fails as a romantic comedy because it’s not about Tim and Mary, it’s about Tim, and for a movie full of interesting women, it’s weirdly sexist. But as a father/son story it’s beautiful, and as a story about growing up, it’s tremendous. I was a totally sucker for this movie even though it is deeply flawed. I’m giving this one a strong C+ – if you are able to just roll with it, you’ll love it.
You can also watch the trailer here: