Back to the present
A mostly charming rom-com with a sci-fi twist
A romantic comedy with a time-travel twist, About Time also has a bit of a serious streak. The comic elements are thoroughly genial and engaging, the time-travel stuff makes for some amusing plot developments, and the modestly philosophical sentiments of the final scenes have a mildly dampening effect on an otherwise frisky and high-spirited enterprise.
The central romance of the tale brings a young, klutzy, redheaded British lawyer Tim (Domhnall Gleeson) together with perky American graduate student Mary (Rachel McAdams), but the relationship between Tim and his father (Bill Nighy, another charmingly klutzy redhead) is no less crucial. Frisky humor is in play with both relationships, but the glimpses of serious drama come mostly via Tim’s dad.
And, as we learn early on, a limited but real ability to travel in time is an attribute shared by all of the males in Tim’s family. Tim first learns of this family secret, as is apparently customary, on his 21st birthday, and he proceeds to put it to work—mostly with an eye to arranging small-but-pertinent improvements within his heretofore ramshackle love life.
The talent for time-travel plays a crucial role, of course, in Tim’s courtship of Mary. Theirs seems to be a love-at-first-sight kind of thing, and so Tim mostly uses his special powers for do-overs of intimate scenes, shifts in the timing of important moments, and the diversion of potential obstacles to their actual pairing. Only later on does he consider the possibility of slightly wider applications of these powers, by which time he also has a sharpened sense of their limitations, comic and otherwise.
Much of About Time plays like an agreeably rambunctious exercise in wish fulfillment, and writer-director Richard Curtis seems to recognize the need for something to offset the nonstop sweetness and light of the Tim-Mary plot. And so, almost as an afterthought, we get intimations of mortality and sorrow in the last reels—via Tim’s ailing dad and his recklessly zany sister Kit Kat (Lydia Wilson). Plus, there are those suddenly serious ruminations, late in the day, about time, the past and the present, and the blessings of the here and now.
Wilson’s Kit Kat and Lindsay Duncan’s turn as Tim’s feisty Mom both make pert, pungent impressions on the overall emotional mix here. And a motley crew of quirky secondary characters keep themselves in the picture though thick and thin—Tim’s jittery legal colleague Rory (Joshua McGuire), a might-have-been girlfriend named Charlotte (Margot Robbie), and a hilariously gloomy playwright/friend/landlord named Harry (Tom Hollander).
Fortunately, the saccharine manipulations of Curtis’ scenario don’t become a problem until well after this production’s abiding virtues—charming performances, a jaunty flair for comedy, and a nice mixture of romance and farce—have fully settled in.