'About Time': Time-travel rom-com takes too much time to say too little

Pioneer Press, St. Paul, Minn.November 7, 2013 

  • MOVIE REVIEW

    'About Time'

    ★★☆☆☆

    R for language and some sexual content. Universal. 2:03. Fayette Mall, Hamburg, Nicholasville

Wait a minute, About Time. You're telling me that if a time traveler changes one thing in the past, it might alter the events to come? Yeah, thanks. I know. I've seen time-travel movies before. Pretty much everyone has.

The tedious time-travel gimmick weighs down the English romantic comedy About Time. For most of the film's running time, it feels like there's nothing at stake. If our hero, Tim (Domhnall Gleeson), can go back in time to fix every little mistake he makes, then what difference does any of it make? And when Tim finally faces a situation he cannot fix through time travel, it turns out About Time has nothing much to say about that either.

About Time is reportedly the last film of Love, Actually writer Richard Curtis, and I'm fine with that. The film is impeccably performed by Gleeson, who's like a slightly odder Hugh Grant; by Rachel McAdams, who glows in the Boring Love Interest role; and by Bill Nighy, who plays Tim's father with an elegance and wit that are the reasons we hang with the time-travel premise as long as we do.

Here's the thing, though: Even if you're not a person who is easily irritated by time-travel stories (and I admit I am one of those people), there is a big problem with pasting the concept into a romantic comedy.

Tim's dad explains to him that he has the ability to go back in time but that he can return only to events that happened within his own life, a skill Tim mostly uses to pick up Mary (McAdams). In other words, it's like every rom-com ever made, in which one lover employs a trick (Dustin Hoffman dressing up like a woman in Tootsie is an extreme example) to woo the other lover, and then must admit to the trick and hope he's forgiven.

Except Tim never fesses up. He uses time travel to learn everything he needs to pretend to be the guy Mary wants — some people, such as law enforcement officials, would call this stalking — and he never does come clean about it. Gross, right?

Whatever. It's a romantic comedy, it's not meant to be realistic and we can go along with a few little things like time travel. But even if you accept the fantasy of the premise, the people in About Time don't feel real, even down to such trifles as McAdams' American character using the word "fringe" to refer to what any American would call "bangs."

Ultimately, what Curtis hopes to do is use the sci-fi and rom-com elements to make a point that human beings are so busy going about their lives, they miss moments of everyday beauty. Which is fine, I guess, but the classic Our Town expresses that exact theme with much more insight. And I've seen Our Town, too. Pretty much everyone has.


MOVIE REVIEW

'About Time'

★★☆☆☆

R for language and some sexual content. Universal. 2:03. Fayette Mall, Hamburg, Nicholasville

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