With theaters filled with movies about grandpas acting like idiots, two grunting over-the-hill action heroes breaking out of an inescapable prison, or people facing almost certain death all alone, it’s about time someone made a clever film featuring people we like who are kind to each other. About Time is just such a film and it is so because it was written and directed by Richard Curtis, the kind and clever writer behind the well known movies Notting Hill, Bridget Jones’ Diary and Four Weddings and a Funeral, and the cult British TV shows Dr. Who, Mr. Bean and Blackadder. The McGuffin in About Time is time travel—that deceptively simple concept that has tripped up so many filmmakers in the past. The difference here is that the characters who have inherited this gift are kind enough not to waste their second (or third or fourth) chances.
As Tim Lake (Domnhall Gleeson) explains in voice-over, his college professor father (Bill Nighy) retired at the age of 50 to stay home to read and raise his children in a seaside house in Cornwall. These two males join Mom (Lindsey Duncan), fey sister Kit-Kat (Lydia Wilson) and the kindly but distracted Uncle D. (Rob Courdray) for family rituals including rain-or-shine tea on the beach every day, outdoor movies each week, and father-son table tennis tournaments. Indeed, in this household, most days are routinely low-key—except for the annual New Year’s Eve party where dozens of guests drink too much and do things they will regret in the morning.
It is on his 21st birthday that Tim learns about the time-travel skill set from his father, and to try it out, he runs to a darkened place, clutches both hands into fists and thinks about midnight on the most recent New Year’s Eve when he shook hands with the girl next to him instead of kissing her. Abracadabra, the do-over ends in a nice kiss, and Tim (and the girl) feel much more positive about themselves.
After earning his law degree, Tim heads to London to practice law and moves in with a quixotic playwright (Tom Hollander), makes friends with a diminutive fellow lawyer (Joshua McGuire) and sets out to find a girlfriend by going to one of those nightclubs where people share a table and talk to each other in complete darkness. One of the voices-in-the-dark is an American named Mary (Rachel MacAdams), and she and Tim hit it off so much that he hangs around outside to see what she looks like. After several mis-starts and time-travel do-overs, the pair become a couple, move in together, meet her conservative parents and have a wedding in a major Cornwall rainstorm.
The casting in About Time is about perfect, especially the he-she chemistry between Gleeson and MacAdams and the father-son chemistry between Gleeson and Nighy. Both Tim and his dad share a gift—a gift that people who are not quite as nice might misuse. But Tim has had a good teacher (one who has, of course, had the freedom of making sure his son understood every lesson). As a result, Tim is far wiser than most about using the opportunities to go back and do things over. So he repeatedly chooses to make things better—for himself, for Mary, for Kit-Kat, for his friends and for almost everyone he loves. It is this Richard Curtis-style “almost everyone” reality bump that transforms the film from being syrupy sweet to something quite profound—something with an emotional punch that makes me want to tell all my friends they have to see this film.
“Just imagine,” I will tell them, “finally being able to see an entertaining movie where being clever and kind are actually given the value they deserve.”
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