About Time (2013) – Directed by Richard Curtis – Starring Domhnall Gleeson, Rachel McAdams, Bill Nighy, Tom Hollander, Lindsay Duncan, Margot Robbie, Lydia Wilson, and Richard Cordery.
Every so often, it’s nice to remember that science fiction doesn’t need robots and explosions and spaceships and aliens to engage an audience.
ABOUT TIME is not a great movie, but it has several great moments, and Richard Curtis’ use of the time travel to get at the core emotional moments of his characters’ lives is a satisfying experience. (That means it made me cry several times over.) There are plenty of plot holes if you care to find them, and like the television show he recently wrote for, the “rules” of time travel exist mainly to be ignored when it benefits the story to ignore them.
Much like Curtis’ Doctor Who episode, “Vincent and the Doctor,” the ability to travel in time does not allow all problems to be fixed, but it can allow a greater appreciation of the moments we do have.
I have been in a contemplative mood of late. I’ve deactivated my Facebook account. I’ve diminished the presence of certain negative people around me. I’m trying to figure out what to do next with my life when my contract runs out in June. I like my job, I like the work it entails, but English departments are blah blah blah. You don’t care. That bullshit isn’t the point; the point is that I’m in a spot where I’m susceptible to the idea of being able to travel through time to make corrections to my life, so I’m practically the perfect storm of an audience for a movie like ABOUT TIME.
On his 21st birthday, Tim Lake (Domhnall Gleeson) gets the news from his father (Bill Nighy) that men in the Lake family can travel in time. There’s a few rules – you can only travel back along your own timeline, the women can’t do it, you can’t go into the future, and if you travel back before the birth of your child, you get a different child. The film then chooses to ignore some of these, which seems to have caused all sorts of problems with all sorts of critics, which I can sort of understand, though my impression was that these were rules that were handed down from experience and not written in stone by Moses after God forgot to tell him to bring a pen and a pad of paper when he came to chat on the Mount.
Tim’s dad’s basic use of time travel seems to focus on reading books and reliving every day twice, where Tim seems much more interested in testing the boundaries of his power. I just disagree with the idea that Curtis somehow forgot his own rules earlier in the movie; the discrepancies are obvious and it’s not like the filmmakers couldn’t have eliminated the rules or altered them if they had wanted. I think the better explanation than throwing a hissy fit about Bill Nighy’s Rules of Time Travel being usurped and broken is to figure out why these obvious examples of “rules breaking” are actually telling us about the film and the characters.
There’s nothing wrong with making audiences think, except, of course, for the fact that most people in the audience (even those who get paid lots of money by newspapers to write about what they’re watching) don’t want to be bothered with all that thinking stuff.
I did quite enjoy Curtis’ spin that you can only travel back along your own timeline so you can go back and kill Hitler because that just ends that line of time travel snark before it can get off the ground. Because than these pompous critics who lambasted Curtis about ignoring his own rules would certainly be whining about how Tim can keep going back in time to perfect his relationship with Mary (Rachel McAdams) and not saving the world from Hitler and Mussolini and mullets.
Where I did feel a bit letdown was the realization early on that this film was not what it was advertised to be.
It’s not a romantic comedy. It’s not a movie about an awkward guy with special powers who has to try and win the girl over a million times because he keeps screwing it up. That’s how ABOUT TIME starts, but just as I was growing used of Tim jumping back to find Mary and get her to fall in love with him she falls in love with him and the movie starts moving forwards to marriage and kids and cycles back to Tim’s father, mother (Lindsay Duncan), and sister, Kit Kat (Lydia Wilson).
ABOUT TIME stops being a Curtis romcom and instead attempts to become something deeper and more serious. It’s mostly successful, though there are stretches of time where it gets a bit dry. Almost everything with Tim and Mary are a delight to watch, though it’s a bit hard for me to wrap my brain around the idea of Rachel McAdams playing bit of an insecure frump. The chemistry between her and Gleeson, however, is good throughout the movie, and the relationship becomes very believable, very quickly.
The real pleasure in watching ABOUT TIME, however, is watching Tim and his Dad move through their lives, and when I realized where Curtis was taking us on this journey, my sense of feeling let down completely vanished. Nighy is obviously a fantastic actor, and he’s perfectly suited to delivering Richard Curtis’ dialogue. Even more than that, however, Nighy’s whimsical aloofness is the perfect match for Curtis’ script. While his rules for time travel turn out to be not-so-accurate, his delivery of those lines is perfect.
Gleeson is good at it, too, and some of the best moments in the film are his voice overs at the start and end.
ABOUT TIME is a bit too heavy-handed for me to love in total, but the moments that work, do so beautifully. When the film had finished playing and I had finished wiping the tears off my face, I immediately went to iTunes and bought the soundtrack. It’s a really good soundtrack, and I reasoned that my contemplative spell of self doubt (my mid-life crisis, if that’s what this is, amounts to buying wrestling t-shirts that I couldn’t buy as a kid, though that’s mostly because I can’t afford a 1968 Mustang fastback) would result in me listening to the album so much I’d enter a fugue state of emotional despondency.
That hasn’t happened.
Instead, most of the time that I thought I’d spend listening to ABOUT TIME, I’ve actually spent listening to Soon You’ll Understand, an album released this past week by pal, Kelen Conley. (Download it here.) I love it when my friends are creative, and I doubly love it when they create something I’d like even if I didn’t know them. Many of the tracks on the album are a better fit for my head than anything else spinning around these days. SYU is contemplative, but it’s also fun and combative, full of as much ego as self-awareness. While a film like ABOUT TIME can hit me in the center of all my emotional concerns (all the things I don’t have and all the experiences I’ve never had), Hyphen’s album connects better with the chaos in my head.
By its final frame, ABOUT TIME represents a man who has come to realize just how blessed his “extraordinary ordinary” life is, a man who is largely putting the time travel aside to concentrate on enjoying each day for what it is, and not to relive it again and again to seek out the best possible version of that day.
I’m not ready to simply settle and ride. There are times when I am, times when I wish I could look at my life and think I have reached the top of a pleasant-to-climb mountain, but those are the down times. I think there’s still greatness to come from the chaos.
I’m just in search of a suitable mountain.