If you’re the kind of writer who pens heart-warming, bittersweet stories with quirky, endearing characters, you can sometimes confuse ‘charming’ with ‘cloying’, and ‘poignant’ with ‘corny’. It’s difficult to get the balance right, but for the most part Richard Curtis has succeeded in his new film, About Time.
As the title suggests, the plot is predicated on time travel. You could argue that this device has been done to death – from Doctor Who (for which Curtis wrote the Van Gogh episode) to Back to the Future to The Time Traveller's Wife and Woody Allen's Midnight in Paris.
Like Allen, Curtis adopts a low-tech approach, eschewing fancy time machines, rocket ships or special effects. Allen used a clock chiming midnight and a vintage car to trigger his time warp; Curtis employs that classic English staple, the wardrobe. But unlike Allen, he neither yearns to experience a long-ago era nor to hobnob with its luminaries. Instead, Curtis takes a small-scale, slightly illogical but deeply personal approach to the sci-fi elements of his story. And I suspect that’s one of the reasons why it works as well as it does. The other reason is Bill Nighy. From the moment we hear his delightfully twitchy explanation of how the adult males in the family can journey back in time, we’re prepared to play along with an intriguing possibility. After all, who hasn’t asked themselves: If only I’d done that differently?
Inevitably, where there’s time travel, there’s also a love story. In About Time we have two ‘love stories’: the romance between Domhnall Gleeson (Tim) and Rachel McAdams (Mary), plus the loving relationship between Nighy and his red-headed son. As a parent and a daughter, I found their scenes together incredibly moving.
The supporting cast is superb – the magnificent Lindsay Duncan as Tim’s mother, Joshua McGuire as the nerdy but lovable Rory, Lydia Wilson as Tim’s eccentric and endearing sister, Richard Cordery as the adorable uncle (you just want to hug him) and Tom Hollander as the self-obsessed playwright. It's also poignant to see Richard Griffiths in what must have been his last film. And who wouldn't love the brief cameo from the gorgeous Richard E. Grant?
There are a few occasions when Curtis hits us over the head with his carpe diem message – including the voiceover at the end – though it’s done with such charm that I really didn’t mind.
I’d recommend this film to anyone who enjoys a clever, funny, feel-good story. But be prepared to shed a few tears – I cried on and off for the last forty minutes, yet I wouldn’t call it a tearjerker. That’s the magic of About Time. Even though it teeters on the edge of being corny and contrived, it rarely loses its balance.
October 19, 2013