When I first heard about the film About Time, it’s biggest selling point was that it was by the writer of Notting Hill and Love Actually – both of which I love, the latter is pretty much a staple come Christmastime. The trailer painted it as a quirky romance with a time travel element. Some people became confused because it stars Rachel McAdams, who also stars in the Time Traveler’s Wife, another romance involving time travel. It also throws back a little to The Notebook – lovey doveyness in the pouring rain, anyone?
So when I came across a used copy of the film for $5, I figured, what the heck. Worst case it would be a palatable romance and good for a little throw-away entertainment. (After all, that’s cheaper than two matinee tickets for my wife and I at a theatre.) However, Richard Curtis (the writer), delivers again, with a film which has serious heart, lovable characters, and an emotional climax that left both my wife and I in tears.
In brief, the premise is that on his 21st birthday, Tim (Domhnall Gleeson – soon to be seen in Star Wars Episode VII), is told by his father (the brilliant Bill Nighy) that the men in their family can travel back in time to points in their own lives. Never forward, simply back in order to change or redo events in their lives. Tim decides he will use his gift to find true love. (This is that romance element that had me cringing for a predictable and relatively uneventful conclusion.) Of course, he does the amusingly expected revisits – avoiding awkward social faux pas, using information he learned to later sweet talk his way into a lady’s good graces (ala Groundhog Day), and, of course, better performance in the bedroom. But in trying to write a perfect love story, he realizes that love is anything but perfect, and when you try to change too much, there are consequences.
I won’t go into all the storyline elements, as I don’t want to spoil the film. However, I will say, that this film does an excellent job of utilizing a time travel element, without getting too mired in all the logistics and temporal shenanigans. To travel in time, they simply stand in a dark place, clench their fists, close their eyes, and they’re back in time – which is punctuated by a simple sound effect for continuity purposes. No fancy contraptions, no special effects, it just happens. They replace their former self, so no risk of Back to the Future-style self run-ins destroying the space/time continuum, and when they’re finished, dark place/fists/eyes and back to the present with the changes in place. They bring up the “Butterfly Effect” briefly, and Bill Nighy quickly sweeps it under the rug with basically a “well, we haven’t destroyed the world yet.” Are there times you find yourself briefly saying “Yeah, but that would change so many other things!”? Sure. But it’s forgivable because you really want it to work out for the characters. Not to say there aren’t some less-than-happy outcomes to some of their decisions.
This film really did catch me off guard. I went in expecting to find at least some entertainment value, and walked away with a strong emotional response. Great performances all around, humor, romance, a little sci-fi fantasy, and a life-affirming message we can all learn from. If you want to share a quality viewing experience with someone, be sure to check out About Time.