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About Time (2013)
Directed by: Richard Curtis
Starring: Domhnhall Gleeson, Rachel McAdams, Bill Nighy, Tom Hollander, Margot Robbie, Lindsay Duncan, Lydia Wilson
Rated: R for Language and Some Sexual Content
Running Time: 2 h 3 m
TMM Score: 3.5 stars out of 5
STRENGTHS: Intent, Some Writing, Acting
WEAKNESSES: Unacknowledged Implications and Consequences
A young man discovers he can time travel and decides to use his newfound power to help land him a girlfriend.
I worked at a movie theater when “About Time” came out, and, as you might imagine, when working at a theater, you work with a lot of cinephiles. This was a film that was recommended to me by not one, but many of my fellow coworkers- some of whose opinions I greatly respected. I remember being intrigued by the influx of recommendations, and so I decided to see the film. On my initial viewing, I was a little bit late for the show, and I ended up missing the first ten minutes. But, I found that I enjoyed “About Time” so much that I went back and rewatched it in theaters a few days later so I could catch that first ten minutes, and then I watched it one more time after I picked it up on Blu Ray. It had been a few years since I watched this movie, and in that time I’d come to think of “About Time” as one of my favorite romantic comedies (it’s rare that I go out of my way to watch a romantic comedy once, let alone three times). I’ve recommended this movie quite a few times to quite a few people; in fact, I even mentioned this film in our Valentines Day Episode as one of my favorite romantic films.
Well, recently I was over at Michael’s house (you know, my cohost for the podcast), and he mentioned that he had found “About Time” cheap at a Family Video sale and picked it up on my recommendation. “Ah, shoot,” I thought to myself, instantly mortified he’d spent $2 on a romantic comedy on my account. While I really enjoy giving recommendations for some films, my knowledge of romantic comedies is nowhere near as impressive as my knowledge on say, the films of Ingmar Bergman (“Wild Strawberries”, “Hour of the Wolf”). I am in no way an expert on romantic comedies- so take that into account when reading this review; what works for me in romantic comedies might not work for you. I thought I should rewatch this movie, just to give Michael and his wife a little warning in case my perception of the quality of this film had changed.
As I began my rewatch of this film, I felt a little tinge of remorse for giving this film such high praise over the last few years. That’s not to say that this is a bad film- I still think it’s better than the majority of romantic comedies I’ve seen. But, there are a few moments in this film that, when looked at in the post-#metoo world, feel a little out of place now. The first act of this film, had it been made today, would’ve been drastically different. At the same time, I still kind of enjoy this film for what it is, and what I believe the authorial intent was.
“We’re all quite similar in the end. We all get old and tell the same tales too many times.”
After Tim’s (Domhnall Gleeson, “Ex Machina”) twenty-first birthday, Tim’s Dad (Bill Nighy, “The Limehouse Golem”) tells him that the men in their family have always been able to time travel (with limitations). Tim’s Dad tells him to use this gift as he will, and Tim decides he will use it to find love. After bumbling through an awkward summer of nigh-encounters with Charlotte (Margot Robbie, “I, Tonya”), Tim decides to move to London where he soon meets Mary (Rachel McAdams, “Spotlight”). Using his time traveling powers, Tim woos Mary, and the two of them head off to face life and all of its ups and downs.
So lets get some of the stuff I like out of the way first, before I start picking apart the things that made me reconsider my unrequited love of this movie. I think Tim and Mary have a very unique chemistry; they make a perfectly awkward yet delightful couple onscreen, one that I was happy to spend time with. I think Bill Nighy gives one of the most underrated performances of his career as Tim’s Dad. (SPOILERS) I also think that because this story continues into territory where normal romantic comedies don’t go (beyond the honeymoon stage, beyond kids, and into the reality and monotony of life), it gives us a much more realistic picture of what a fulfilling relationship might look like, and it also gives us a few thoughts on how to live with love in the forefront your life. This might not be the 4.5/5 star movie that I used to think it was, but its certainly a film worth watching; it has some cheesy moments, it has some scenes that might feel awkward in today’s politically charged climate… but it’s a romantic comedy. This film was never going to be the next “Shakespeare in Love”, but it wasn’t trying to be. I expect if you go into this film with reserved expectations you will be pleasantly surprised.
My biggest problem with this film is the first act, and I honestly think that might be because of the way #metoo changed my perception on what is funny and what isn’t, what is acceptable/what isn’t. Our political climate has changed drastically in five years, and so has my perception of some of the things that happened in this film. But… context is incredibly important when looking at a film. Think about it this way: the themes of “In the Heat of the Night” were extremely forward thinking in the political climate of 1967, but those same themes, when addressed in “Green Book” felt a little well-worn in today’s climate. While I do think the way that Tim uses his time traveling powers could be viewed today as manipulative, the authorial intent six years ago was not to show that Tim was intentionally manipulative (if that makes sense). Tim uses his powers to try to improve little interactions. Sure, his use of his power could be looked at as petty, and yes, it could be looked at as manipulative, but that is not the way the screenwriter originally meant it to be viewed. Tim is supposed to come off as a kindhearted person who only has the best intentions for Mary in mind; he never does anything malicious with his powers- he never does something horrible and reverses time immediately. He uses time travel in a way that all of us probably would (how many times have you said something incredibly stupid in a conversation and immediately wanted a redo?). Just take this movie with a grain of salt if you watch it; its not meant to be a political statement, it’s just meant to be a fun movie. For better or worse, wherever you go today, you can’t escape politics, and I know this film and my review of this film could absolutely draw some criticism if I didn’t nip that topic in the bud.
My other issue with this film is a bit more nitpicky. This film uses, for lack of a better phrase, a magic system for the way Tim time travels. There are a few rules that are set up, and a couple of them pay off with increasing weight. However, towards the end of the film, they completely toss these rules out the window for a trip back to visit a memory one more time. It’s a sweet moment in the film, but it also negates all the work put in to establish the rules.
Before I let you go, I wanted to talk about just the tone that this film sets, which is probably the reason I’ve come back to this film a couple of times now. I’ve actually been a rather big fan of some of Richard Curtis other works too (he directed “Love Actually” and “Pirate Radio”, both of which I enjoy). Curtis has a way of approaching a lighthearted topic and still bringing a surprising amount of emotion to it. He isn’t a director I would consider one of my favorites (I prefer depressing dramas to romantic comedies), but his previous films have tended to strike a harmonious chord with me. This film, much like another film I reviewed watched, “Chocolat”, fall under the category of a ‘feel good’ movie. Films like these aren’t ones I’ll return to every year, but they’re films that, if I’m in a bad mood, I know I can return to their worlds for a smile.
I’ve often talked about how when you have a film that falls on the border of decent and good, it really is up to the viewer personal preferences to decide how they feel about that film. I’ve given “About Time” 3.5 Stars. There are some great scenes that I think could’ve boosted this movie to a 4 Star rating, while there are other scenes that could’ve dropped it down to a 3 star. It is not, as I have already mentioned, as good as I remember it to be (how many films really are ageless?), but I do think it’s still worth a watch. This was my fourth time watching this film, and I can honestly say I probably will watch it again a few years down the road. I think the fact that I spent more time pontificating on the pros and cons of this film than I usually do should be enough to indicate that I feel something special for this film, that it does mean something to me even though it does have plenty of flaws.
I find the sweetness and kindness instilled in some of the scenes in this movie displays a kind of tenderness that I rarely see in modern film. I still get a few chuckles from some of the side characters (particularly Tom Hollander (“A Private War”)), and I still love the father son relationship between Tim and his Dad. No, this isn’t a perfect film, but few films are. My personal preferences and my own experiences with this film will lead me to like it more than some people, but I think many people will still find this to be an overall enjoyable experience.
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