Other Media Review

Movie Review: About Time


Title: About Time
Written By: Richard (Script) Curtis
Publication Info: 2013
Genre: Science Fiction/Fantasy

Book About Time - Rachel McAdams and Domhnall Gleeson laughing in the rain 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.

About Time is in theatres now, and you can find tickets at Fandango and MovieTickets.com.

You can also watch the trailer here: 

Comments are Closed

  1. Dora says:

    I have to confess, the plot of this sort of squicks me out. I would have to see it for myself, but from the commercials it’s like the heroine gets no choice in falling for the hero, because he just keeps doing it over and over until he hits on the right thing to say. It’s not like in real life where someone could be persistent trying to get someone else to like them, it’s a woman who has no idea that the guy that seems to do and say everything right has really failed a thousand times before with her. She doesn’t get to decide she isn’t interested in the guy who flubbed at the party because he rewinds time so she doesn’t know that happens until he figures out how to say /do what she wants. I dunno, maybe I’m reading too much into it, the scenes presented in the commercial where he keepsffixing his interactions with her left me creeped out, especially since the review says she never knows it’s happening.

  2. CarrieS says:

    @Dora – the movie tries to get rid of this squicky element by setting up Tim’s failed efforts with his first crush and saying that because his efforts failed, it shows that you can’t make some one love you through time travel.  But one of the deepest flaws of this movie is that it’s inconsistent.  It’s inconsistent about its own rules and it’s inconsistent about its own messages.  So when Tim uses time travel to get together with Mary, including erasing her chance to meet someone else, it still feels squicky. 

    Maybe you could argue that you can’t use time travel to force destiny into happening but you can use it to keep destiny from being thwarted – but saying that and showing Mary being manipulated over and over again are different things. 

    Poor Rachel McAdams can’t catch a break – this is her third movie in which she has to stand around while male characters time travel in and out of her life.

  3. Emily A. says:

    I have this problem when I read romance. When a character, usually but not always the heroine, is really reluctant/doesn’t want to date the hero/other character, I start going upset which usually the book can’t overcome. This is because in real life you get to say no, but if the romance is between those two characters who are supposed to fall in love,  than obviously she/he doesn’t get to say no, and then usually I’m pissed or creeped out or both. Then there are other factors the either increase or decrease my negative feelings.

    As for the movie, it looked cute, but I probably won’t see it. I find I’m tired of the live in the now/carpe diem crapt. I did like the fact this looked like romantic comedy and then a gross-out comedy masquerading as a romance.  I rarely see romantic comedies for a lot of reasons.

    Hey I just realized Rachel MacAdams was in Midnight in Paris which I loved. Sigh. She really can’t catch a break.

  4. Anne Stuart says:

    It’s a movie that made you laugh, made you weep, and changed the way you look at things and the way you behave.  And yet that’s somehow a C+?
    No matter how deeply flawed/badly crafted a work is, be it a play, a book, a movie or a painting, anything that brings forth that kind of reaction is worthy of better than an adequate grade.  IMNSHO

  5. CarrieS says:

    @Anne Stuart:  I appreciate your comment and I think it’s well said. I never feel particularly defensive about my letter grades because they are my least favorite part of doing a review and I’ve never gotten the hang of them. I have a very hard time figuring out what grade to give, especially when there is a difference between my emotional reaction to the work and the technical skill of the work. I tend to grade high when my reaction to a work is a powerful one.

    In this case, my difficulty with the letter grade comes from the fact that I had two different emotional reactions.  During the actual movie, I laughed, I cried, I had heartwarming moments.  If I had been asked to grade the movie in the second that I walked out into the lobby, I would have gone with a B+ at least.  Some of this response came from the fact that my father in law died last year and seeing the movie father with the movie son evoked a retain in me that was separate from the content of the film, but I also genuinely thought the movie was touching and funny.

    But by the time I was writing the review, I was having another emotional reaction.  I didn’t just feel intellectually annoyed by the flaws of the movie – I felt emotionally cheated.  I felt that my emotional response was manipulated, not earned, and I felt grief for the female characters in the movie who are manipulated and cheated.  The movie had a fantastic taste in the moment and a terrible aftertaste – hence the C (with the plus being because I liked it so much in the moment).

    As another example of my grading dilemmas, Sarah and I both reviewed Sum of All Kisses and we both said almost the same things in our reviews but gave very different grades.  In my case, I had all the same problems with the book that SB Sarah had, but I simply could not bring myself to grade the book less than an A because my emotional response to the book was so glowingly positive, both in the moment of the book and later on.  So that’s a time when I probably should have rated the book no more than a B, but my emotional response earned it an A.

  6. Amy Raby says:

    I saw the trailer for this movie but lost interest in it when it said that only the men of the family are able to time travel. Sigh, yet another case of the men getting to do the fun stuff while the women wait at home.

  7. Kay says:

    I dragged my husband to this yesterday afternoon. I’d read this review so prepared him that it was more father/son than romcom (which he’s normally okay with anyway). He thought it a good movie. His dad is still alive so maybe it gave him something to think about.

    My dad died last year from Alzheimer’s, so I really lost him 8 years before that. What if I could have been the unwitting “victim” of his time traveling to make things better and relive them one more time?

    At the end Tim admits he doesn’t travel much (any?) any more. One wonders if he will even tell his son the family secret.

    The movie did seem overly long to me and then it hit its message and I was a goner. Take a hanky.

  8. Anne Stuart says:

    CarrieS.  Ah,that explains it better.  It’s rare that something comes back to bother me later on—I tend to stay in initial emotional reaction and just chalk it up to a guilty pleasure if I love it despite the flaws.  But one can feel manipulated and cheated later on, and I can understand marking it down.
    I think what I would have done would be to give it a double grade.  An A or A- for the initial emotional reaction and the pleasure of the laughter and the emotion and then a C or lower for the detached look at it.
    But then, I like to break rules.

  9. chacha1 says:

    I have enjoyed other movies by this filmmaker, so I’ve been tempted to see this one (though surely not in the theatre; if we didn’t make it to Star Trek Into Darkness or Gravity, clearly our movie-going is temporarily on hiatus).

    From this review and others, I have had the same initial reaction (“No fair!”) about the ersatz time-travel, i.e. unlimited do-overs for clueless hero.  But then when I thought about it, I thought “what if what they are getting at is that you have to KNOW who a person is before they can be interested in you, or before you can love them the right way.”  Because even just from reviews it seems that the hero is really trying to get to know the heroine in a way that did not, to me, come across as stalkery or manipulative.  He is trying to find the key, yes, but by learning what she really wants.

    However, all that said, I have not seen it and there are sufficient other cautions above that I think this must go into the “deeply flawed but not wholly offensive” category.

  10. Spot on review. Thanks!

    I went to see this movie because I’m a sucker for time-travel stories and I’m a sucker for a Richard Curtis movie (Love Actually practically put me in the hospital.)

    But I didn’t feel this movie knew what it was? Billed as a rom-com, but really not. I agree on the father-son thing. I left this movie even more depressed than when I saw Ms. Congeniality 2 and/or Robocop.

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