About Time (2013): The Use and Abuse of Superpower

Time travel can be tricky. The idea has been used so many times that it has almost turned into a cliché. While it can bring about interesting cinematic moments, offering some creative, postmodern juxtapositions, it is hard to navigate that overused capsule of storytelling to new height.

This is a movie I’d anticipated. Not that I’m a fan of Richard Curtis, but I do find a couple of his works delightful. He is the prolific writer/director/producer of many popular romantic comedies. His works in any of the above-mentioned capacities include Four Weddings and a Funeral (1994), Notting Hill (1999), Bridget Jones’s Diary and its sequel (2001, 2004), Love Actually (2003), The Girl in the Café (2005), and the not so romantic comedies of Mr. Bean (1992-2007), among many other titles. About Time is his third movie as director.

While I’m indifferent to the travel back in time story idea, I do have fond memories of a few movies which now have found a place in my mental playlist, tagged time travel. They include Somewhere In Time (1980), Kate and Leopold (2001), and the more recent, Midnight In Paris (2011). As for About Time, despite my high anticipation, I’m afraid it will slip away in no time.

About Time

The year Tim (Domhnall Gleeson) turns 21, his Dad (Bill Nighy) tells him a secret: all the men in his family have the power to travel back in time. Fine. What you will use this extraordinary power for is totally up to you. Dandy. Tim knows exactly what to do with it: find a girl to love. Not a hard decision, for Tim tends to be a novice in relationships and unsure of himself. He soon sets his eyes on Mary (Rachel McAdams).

Tim has the time of his life trying out his new-found power. He uses it to redo the mistakes he has made, erase the speech bubbles he has messed up, reappear as more savvy than he really is. To his advantage, he hits on Mary and repeats his romancing act with her multiple times, she oblivious of being played. This being the brunt of a joke is highly problematic. That it is a comical episode does not mask the fact that this is an obvious abuse of superpower.

But of course, the film is made up of many more episodes. We see Tim and Mary get married and have children of their own. There are accidents and mishaps, and Tim soon finds out that even though he can go back in time, he cannot avoid consequences of actions, his and others. The last part of the movie seems a shift from earlier segments in delivering lines that get a bit too sentimental and preachy, utterances of platitudes.

Director Curtis has a fine cast in his hands. However, maybe because of the romcom genre, they give the impression of an overacting bunch. If Domhnall Gleeson does not ring a bell you might want to travel back to Harry Potter movies, True Grit, and last year’s Anna Karenina where he played Levin in the adaptation of Tolstoy’s classic. I definitely enjoyed his Levin role more. Rachel McAdams, interestingly, has been in several time travel movies, including Midnight in Paris. Again, her act there is more convincing. Well, to quote Mr. Darcy, the epitome of aloof coolness, they ‘smile too much.’

So that’s when I doubly appreciate Bill Nighy. You don’t have to smile in order to be funny. Actually, you should refrain from doing just that. He is the veteran here and I feel he saves the show. Nighy’s performance turns sentimental episodes into moving moments, especially with the father-son relationship.

A lightweight, sugar-coated romcom, definitely an item on the dessert menu, that is, if you don’t much care for the main dish.

~ ~ 1/2 Ripples


Other related reviews on Ripple Effects:

Midnight In Paris (2011)

The Girl In The Café (2005): The Hunger for Connection

Anna Karenina (2012)

True Grit: A Cool Summer Read and Movie