Film Review: About Time (2013)

“Get ready for spooky time”

To criticise a film about time travel for not possessing the most stringent internal logic might seem perverse (though it has never stopped those who watch Doctor Who…); to criticise a Richard Curtis film for being utterly daft feels likewise misintentioned, his work is what it is. But there’s something really rather frustrating about his 2013 work About Time that is determined to have its cutesy cutesy pie and eat it, saccharine sweetness and all.

It is as much a father/son love story as it is a boy/girl romance in which Domhnall Gleeson’s nerdishly appealing Hugh-Grant-a-like Tim, is the son of an upper-class boho family – troubled-but-not-too-much sister (Lydia Wilson), check; slightly doolally uncle (Richard Cordery), check; perfect parents (Lindsay Duncan and Bill Nighy), check. And wouldn’t you know it, it turns out the men in this family have the power to travel back in time by closing their eyes and squeezing a fist.

He can use the power to correct his mistakes but in doing so, his actions impact what has already happened. So we see his meet-cute with Rachel McAdams’ Mary in the Dans Le Noir restaurant accidentally erased by his decision to do a good deed for his landlord and when he finally tracks her down, she now has a boyfriend, so he goes back in time to sort that out which in terms has its own issues. And so on and so forth until the rules (such as they are) no longer fit what Curtis wants and so he breaks ‘em.

If you’re in the mood, this might seem cute but for me, it was endlessly exasperating and somewhat suspect. Mary isn’t in on the act so when Tim redoes the first time they have sex over and over again to get it ‘just right’, it flirts with the distasteful. And much as I like Nighy, the impossibly perfect father role here is just too much – the emotion that ought to pulse through his conversations with his son end up glib rather than genuinely heartfelt.

Still, there’s a good supporting cast – Vanessa Kirby and Joshua McGuire are good fun as friends of Mary and Tim, Tom Hollander gets to throw some magnificent shade at the RSC as Tim’s playwright landlord and Lydia Wilson is good even if the annoyingly-named Kit-Kat (Tim’s sister) is a damp squib of a character. I have enjoyed Curtis’ films in the past (though not Love Actually, at all) so I have to chalk this one up as something of a disappointment.

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