Review: About Time / Cert: 12A / Director: Richard Curtis / Screenplay: Richard Curtis / Starring: Domhnall Gleeson, Rachel McAdams, Bill Nighy, Tom Hollander, Lindsay Coulson / Release Date: Out Now
Richard Curtis follows up the absolute howler of his last film, The Boat That Rocked (and sank), by returning to the tried-and-trusted light rom-com formula which has stood him in good sickly stead in titles such as Notting Hill and Love, Actually. But, possibly inspired by his superior 2010 Doctor Who script, Vincent and the Doctor, Curtis has gone a bit high concept this time around, adding a dash of time travel shenanigans to his usual frothy mix of lovable English eccentrics and playful buffoonery.
On his twenty-first birthday, gangly Tim Lake (Hugh Grant clone Gleeson) is told by his father (Nighy, less irritating than usual) that the male side of his family have, traditionally, enjoyed the ability to travel in time, but only back through their own timelines. Sadly this does not present the opportunity to do anything truly beneficial for mankind, like killing Hitler or stopping Simon Cowell’s parents from ever meeting. So it’s a familiar story; boy meets girl, boy goes back in time to help a friend and changes history so he never met girl, boy jumps through all sorts of temporal hoops to meet her again, boy meets girl again, they fall in love, get married, have kids, etc. And that’s pretty much it. Curtis isn’t remotely concerned with the mechanics of time travel (or the reasons for it) – there’s no elaborate time machine or time corridor; Tim just goes into a cupboard or other darkened room, closes his eyes and clenches his fist and he’s back in time. No troubling ‘butterfly effect’ either; Tim’s father casually explains that there’s never been any unpleasantness or awkward side effects and on we go.
Curtis is on much firmer ground here, in every sense, than he was in The Boat That Rocked. He can do this sort of stuff in his sleep and it’s hard not to shake off the impression that he’s done exactly that in About Time. Once Tim has worked his way into Mary’s affections the time travel gimmick takes a back seat, wheeled out once or twice just to pad out the length of the film or to introduce a brief bit of dramatic oomph when the film’s in danger of sliding into mawkish over-sentimentality. We’re again in Curtis’ very peculiar cinematic utopian view of Britain; all our lead characters are resolutely middle to upper class with good jobs, London is a glittering, spotless paradise of nightlife, art galleries and plush restaurants and, as usual, there’s barely a non-white face in sight. Tim’s family own a huge house on the Cornish coast and they lounge around doing nothing much, enjoying picnics on the beach and throwing huge parties. Tim leaves home and moves to London to work as a lawyer but isn’t forced to move into a scummy stinking flat in Balham – he shares a house with one of his Dad’s friends, an eccentric grumpy playwright (Hollander). Not for Tim a cashier or shop assistant for a girlfriend; Mary is a reader for a big publishing house. Few people in Britain will recognise these people or, indeed, this Britain.
Despite its faults and its achingly rose-tinted depiction of the UK in the twenty-first century, About Time is fitfully amusing even if it’s never laugh-out-loud funny. Many characters are Curtis stereotypes, several storylines lead nowhere much and there are never any high stakes or any suggestion that there’s going to be anything other than a Very Happy Ending. Performances are faultless – Gleeson is a real find and displays some decent comic timing – and Curtis’ script eventually becomes reflective and maudlin, reminding us mere mortals that even if we can’t actually travel in time (and we can’t) we’re really all travelling in time just by living our lives every day and we should make the most of every moment because… oh, pass me the sick bucket…
Richard Curtis has come a long way since the glory days of Blackadder, Not the Nine O’Clock News or even The Vicar of Dibley and whilst there’s certainly no bite or edge in fare like About Time he’s shown again and again that he knows his audience and he knows what they like. You don’t have to be able to travel in time to predict they’ll like this one too.
Expected Rating: 6 out of 10