About Time

About Time


Reviewed by: Scott Macdonald

With all of your life to relive and reshape as you see fit, what would you want to change? In Richard Curtis' new sci-fi comedy you obviously use it to get a girlfriend. Duh!

A young man, Tim (Domhnall Gleeson - Bill from the Harry Potter franchise) - has an "idyllic family" with all the privilege in the world. Soon after his 21st birthday, his father (Bill Nighy) shares the "absolutely not a joke" family secret. All the men have the gift of time-travel. No TARDIS necessary. Stand in a closet, ball up your fists, think of what point you want to go to and poof - you're there. You're free to fix mistakes, change things, maybe even get that elusive girlfriend. It's all Tim needs to complete himself, while obliviously soaked in material wealth.

Gleeson is a likeable enough lead and seems to be resisting Curtis' churning out of a very particular kind of excruciating identikit bumbling foppery - walking around oblivious to furniture, being terrible around women, blurting out repressed emotion and then curling up with the ensuing embarrassment. His time-travel science is ill-explained. There is no Doc Brown-esque sketched model of causality, or Doctor Who's wibbly-wobbly timey-wimey (Curtis wrote the script for a recent Who episode). But clarity doesn't come easily.

Tim finds the woman of his dreams, Mary (Rachel McAdams), in a quite literal blind date and canonical Meet Cute scene. Later on, in helping his playwright friend, Tim inadvertently undoes the date with Mary. He tries again, in an ephemerally creepy set of introductory meetings which ring hollow. His time-travelling stalker knowledge tumbling out should scare the living hell out of any sane human being.

There seems to be a continuous timeline, which allows some reshaping before returning to the present. In spite of his maudlin early lesson in pursuing love, ("All the time travel in the world can't make someone love you.") the entire plot is a gruesome mixture of morality and shoving Tim's moral vacuity into it. He steals girlfriends, embarrasses rivals, has sex over and over and over and over again and plays non-consensual puppet-master. This is one achingly insidious and manipulative character, amid the film's forced levity, and written away with "he's got a kind heart". This is complete hand-waving trash - he's an ignorant, privileged cocky arsehole and good things happen to him. Pass the sick bucket.

Even worse, Curtis writes his female characters poorly. His script places them on pedestals, letting them simply be objects to admire or victims to save. The usually adorable McAdams is utterly wasted in the story. The odd side-characters fare no better, where Curtis' writing crutches come tumbling out: bumbling English emotional constipation, excited-little-boy syndrome ("If I saw her breasts, my eyeballs would literally explode"). All to milk lowest-common denominator laughs. Curtis' other writing and directing crutches are present and correct, Very Deep And Meaningful Voice Over Dialogue backed by tomorrow's sentimental "your call is important to us - please hold" music.

Once we seem to have a grip of the rules, Curtis pulls the rug - into a deeply suspect retroactive abortion storyline - which the film later cheats on. The explanation for this is equally suspect. When I find myself mid-movie modelling metaphysical multiverses instead of engaging with the story and its telling, something's gone horribly wrong.

As a soapy retread of Groundhog Day or as a human story of any kind, About Time simply does not work. It is lowest common denominator saccharine diahorrea with an abusive monster at its core. Its offensiveness is matched only by its tepidity.

Reviewed on: 08 Sep 2013
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A young man who discovers he can travel in time decides to use it to try and get a girlfriend.
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Director: Richard Curtis

Writer: Richard Curtis

Starring: Domhnall Gleeson, Rachel McAdams, Bill Nighy, Lydia Wilson, Lindsay Duncan, Richard Cordery, Joshua McGuire, Tom Hollander, Margot Robbie, Will Merrick, Vanessa Kirby, Tom Hughes, Clemmie Dugdale, Harry Hadden-Paton, Mitchell Mullen

Year: 2013

Runtime: 123 minutes

BBFC: 12A - Adult Supervision

Country: UK

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