Maker of Notting Hill, Love Actually tells a father-son love story in About Time
About Time isn’t the best example of Richard Curtis’s writing or direction, but it’s good enough to make you fall in love with the protagonist Tim and his family.
Before we get into About Time, let’s put one detail about it out in the open. This is a film written and directed by Richard Curtis. Richard Curtis, who created The Black Adder and Mr Bean, and who has written the following films: Four Weddings and a Funeral, Notting Hill, Bridget Jones’s Diary, Love Actually and Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason. Simply put, as far as romantic comedies go, this man is a god. So say hallelujah, because with About Time, Curtis is back.
Tim (Domhnall Gleeson) is, in his own words, “too tall, too thin and too ginger”. When he turns 21, his father (Bill Nighy) reveals to Tim that he belongs to a family of time travellers. If he wants to go back in time, then Tim needs to find a quiet, dark place, clench his fists, shut his eyes and think of the moment he wants to return to, and life will obligingly rewind. It may not be the stuff to qualify Tim for his own Marvel comic, but then he isn’t looking to be a superhero. He’s a regular guy with modest ambitions: he just wants to meet the right girl and live happily ever after.
If you know anything about romantic comedies or Richard Curtis’s filmography, the question isn’t really if he achieves that ambition, but how he does so.
About Time isn’t the best example of Curtis’s writing or direction, but it’s good enough to make you fall in love with Tim and his family. Tim uses his time travelling skills wisely. Which means he makes sure that his dad’s best friend, a playwright, has a good opening for his new play (rewind x 1); that he doesn’t say the wrong things to Mary, the woman of his dreams (rewind x 2); and that when he and the love of his life finally get together, their first night is fantastic (rewind x 3).
Gleeson, who was last seen in the role of an unusual romantic hero BBC series Black Mirror, is wonderful as Tim. His charm comes from being a regular guy, rather than a well-chiselled hero. Rachel McAdams as Mary doesn't have to do much more than smile toothily, which McAdams does ably. In the past, Curtis has written fantastic, dynamic women (think of Emma Thompson in Love Actually and Julia Roberts in Notting Hill, for starters), so it's disappointing that the well-crafted Tim couldn't have a more deserving heroine.
However, by the end of the film, you realise why Curtis didn't really bother much with Mary. About Time is really a film about Tim and his dad, about a young man coming into himself. Nighy is stellar as Tim's father. It’s sad that he’s best known as a massive octopus-headed pirate (courtesy the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise) because he’s actually a solid actor who can make you giggle with his superb comic timing but also make you sniffly at emotional moments. Nighy and Gleeson’s happy banter and ping-pong tournaments come together to create a tender portrayal of parenthood.
Tim also has to negotiate the usual trials of a romantic comedy in About Time — wooing the girl, the temptation to be unfaithful, misfortune that threatens his life when everything seems perfect. But ultimately, the film isn't about Tim and Mary. The real love story at the heart of About Time is the one between Tim and his dad. Go watch it. Chances are, you’ll come out of the cinemas with hope in your heart and a smile on your face.
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