Richard Curtis makes About Time a lot more funny, charming, and touching than its flawed central premise should allow. The film centers on Tim (Domhnall Gleeson), a young man who turns 21 and finds out from his father (Bill Nighy) that he can travel in time and change what happens and has happened in his life. After Tim meets Mary (Rachel McAdams) and feels as if he is in love, he pursues her in hopes of winning her over; surprisingly, that’s not the most difficult part. It becomes the ins and outs of everyday life, watching the days pass as they have children and see older family members leave their lives. What becomes so striking about the film is its fundamental lack of central conflict; for a man that should be struggling on a daily basis questioning his decisions, he becomes defined by his ability to get out of any situation. Some things are inevitable and cannot be changed, sure, but having Mary in his life isn’t a conflict. That makes the film a bit too easy near its conclusion.
Yet this is such a decidedly pleasant and lovable film that it becomes increasingly difficult to fault its central plot. Just because it does not fit my definition of rigged storytelling does not deter from its characters being wonderfully drawn. Curtis’s screenplay is founded on guiding romantic comedy principles, but shockingly does not fall into traps that could have been set. We see that in a few particular moments in the film’s middle, where it almost meanders around its plot and tells the story of a man going through life as simply as possible. Gleeson’s performance is marked by a tenderness and fragility that we rarely see in a male lead; he isn’t particularly handsome, but he’s intelligently characterized and defined by his love and devotion to family. McAdams, as always, feels right in this type of role, living an independent life that happens to include the love of her life. She’s become one of the most consistent actresses working today.
This is also a gorgeously photographed feature, with beautiful landscapes within England that shine especially in the film’s wedding sequence. And no matter how much fault i find in the fact that this film does not have enough of a challenge for its lead character, we see in death that it becomes the most tragic struggle. Should he constantly go back a day and relive the moments with that loved one, or just let them pass? Learning of something near the resolution of the film that defines how far back a person can travel reveals plenty about someone’s desires. I often found myself lost in the beauty of the central relationship, which becomes defined by its sense of humor. Curtis has directed and written a feature that revels in delicacy and intimacy, and even if his premise becomes far from perfect, his film is wholesome, pure romance.
Grade: ★★★½ (out of 5)