About Time

About Time

  • With a compelling conceit, good performances and a script that fuses drama and romantic comedy, About Time promises to be heartfelt. But it doesn’t deliver.
  • Despite Rachel McAdams’ (Mary) brilliant performance. Much like Jessica Chastain in Zero Dark Thirty (2012), McAdams distracts from her character’s depthlessness, using facial expressions and wayward glances to express personality and emotion the script doesn’t include. She is riveting.
  •  The rest of the cast is also good.
  • The blind date at which Mary (McAdams) and Tim (Domhnall Gleeson) first meet is an inspired piece of filmmaking that uses darkness to express sweetness and romantic energy.
  • The montage in a subway station is equally strong.
  • Tim’s relationship with his father (Bill Nighy) is well developed.
  • But About Time remains more flawed than good. First, the film doesn’t define rules for time travel. For example, Tim travels back, at one point, to help his friend, Harry (Tom Hollander), but in so doing erases his first meeting with Mary. Upon realizing as much, Tim cannot return to the moments before he met Mary, thereby leaving Harry unhelped, but also reliving his memorable first date. Why not? There could be myriad explanations, but the movie doesn’t offer any, a trend that continues throughout; time travel can be used or not used however the plot demands, often in whatever way most manipulates the viewer’s emotion.
  • Moreover, the film is mostly without conflict between feature characters, a fact that makes About Time ploddingly slow and frequently uninteresting. A subplot centered on Kit-Kat’s (Lydia Wilson) relationship with her boyfriend, Jimmy (Tom Hughes) implies conflict, but rarely puts it on the screen. Ditto that for The Father’s sub-plot.
  • Also troubling: the fact that no one questions the morality of Tim’s (or his father’s) behavior. Our protagonist uses his gift to shamelessly manipulate women, once even sleeping with the same person three times, without her knowledge or consent. An argument about the virtues of such behavior, most likely between father and son, might have produced a compelling scene rife with character growth, but instead About Time glosses over ethical concerns.
  • Writer/Director Richard Curtis uses too much voice over, lazily telling what the film doesn’t show.
  • Finally, Curtis’ screenplay occasionally borders on sexist, most especially in an overlong scene wherein Mary prepares for an outing by indecisively trying on near a dozen outfits, only to return to the first, all the while seemingly oblivious to onlooker Tim’s growing frustration. Even if this and other scenes are not misogynistic, they are cliche-riddled, which is a problem all its own.
  • Given a clever premise and it’s interesting central relationship, About Time might have been a good movie. It just isn’t.
  • Final Grade: D-

14 thoughts on “About Time

  1. I’m all down for sentimentality and sap, but it has to be done right. This wasn’t one of those cases, especially since it’s such a waste of Rachel McAdams. Good review.

    • I like well done romantic comedies, too. Love Actually, by the same director, is one of my favorite movies and is my favorite Christmas flick. This one, in my opinion, isn’t well done.

      Though, I am in the minority. About 70% of critics, according to Rotten Tomatoes, like it. You might find you just disagree with me.

  2. I can understand your points on a few issues. The fact it does lack conflict and that it doesn’t go into the ethical issues of using time travel to manipulate women. It was just a cute little rom com that was ok but not nearly as great as Love Actually. I would give it a C – Good review

    • Thanks.

      I tried to like this. I really did. My anticipation was even high enough that I drove about forty minutes to see it (so few theaters around me were still showing it). In the end, I was really disappointed when I just didn’t (or couldn’t) like it.

  3. Well, I loved it. I thought the way Tim first slept with Mary was more for comedy than anything, and to make up for the mistake of being sloppy the first time. So I saw a lot of greatness here, too bad you didn’t though. I guess we can’t like them all haha.

  4. Harsh, but fair enough. One of the films of the year for me. I’m not romantic comedy fan in general but Richard Curtis got it spot on with this film. The man is an unapologetic sentimentalist and I think this film perfectly encapsulates what he’s about. It sidesteps romance cliches by saying – heck, here’s boy meets girl, they fall in love, done…marriage…kids…the whole ball of wax. That gives Curtis the chance to examine moments in their life – children, weddings, friends and family… there’s a real celebration of these little moments bringing both happiness and tragedy. I was a little put out by the hazy logic behind the time travel but I gave up analyzing because that’s not Curtis’ point. Indeed, I actually thought McAdams was magical in the film. However, you make your points well – About Time seems to have divided audiences which seems strange given that it’s a fairly straightforward comedy-drama.

    • Those are all excellent points, ones I had not considered as I watched it. The bad time travel logic is still hard to overcome for me, as is the relatively thin character development, but you’ve given something to consider as to the rest of the film.

      Oh and I quite agree on McAdams. She is terrific, easily the best part of this movie.

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