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.