★★★★ After his 21st birthday, Tim (Domhnall Gleeson) gets "the talk" from his father (Bill Nighy). As it turns out, the men in their family have the strange ability to travel in time.
They can't go into the future, but they can go back and forth within their own lives. When they arrive at the specified time and place they re-inhabit their body from that time so there's no trouble to be had running into your old self. About Time is a movie that involves time travel, not a movie about time travel.
The film is smart to set up its rules at the beginning, and for the most part it follows them. There is one moment towards the end, which I won't spoil, but it revolves around another rule that's not revealed until later on that makes it impossible to travel back beyond a certain point without messing up the future. The emotional climax of the film comes when the characters have to tearfully abide by this rule and it's a really great moment. However, immediately afterwards they then willingly break it, after which there are no consequences, thus undermining the importance of the rule, as well as the emotion we just witnessed.
That all being said, I do wish I could travel back in time and rewatch the film without thinking about time travel, because in all reality that's not what's important here.
Even with this amazing ability, Tim's Dad is more than happy to simply spend time with his family and read, "everything a man could wish to read, twice." I really enjoyed Bill Nighy as Tim's Dad here. It's a great supporting role and the film wouldn't work if we didn't love these two characters.
What will young Tim use his new found powers to do? You guessed it, he's looking for love. This is harder than it looks though, because as Tim tells us, "All the time travel in the world can't make someone love you."
About Time is a little like Groundhog Day, with Tim attempting to try little moments over and over until he gets them just right. This results in not one but three meet-cutes with Mary (Rachel McAdams), the first of which is at Dans le Noir. Noir is a real London restaurant where patrons dine in total darkness. So Tim and Mary meet and get to know each other without the benefit of physical attraction. It's a really nice scene, but it's one spot where the cinematography was lacking. There are a few light reflections off of glasses, but for the most part the screen is black. It's a good scene that could have been great if it had been shot differently.
Tim has a few too many acquaintances that have small roles to play in the story and none of them get enough screen time to amount to much. I can't help but wonder if one of the three had been written out of the film, and his scenes divided among the remaining two, if the film would have been better for it.
Tim's one acquaintance is a playwright, and he's the character I would edit out. He's not likable and at one point Tim goes back in time to help him. We don't believe for a second that Tim would go to such lengths for this guy who's been nothing but mean to him.
About Time is written and directed by Richard Curtis, who also wrote one of my favorite films of all time, Notting Hill. I tried very hard not to compare the two, but I did notice a lot of similarities, both bad and good.
Like Notting Hill, there's music that's repeated throughout the film to accentuate emotional points. It doesn't work in either film. In Notting Hill the repeated music was the song When You Say Nothing at All. Here, it's a more simple piano refrain. The film also repeats a song at the beginning and end, like a musical bookend. That didn't bother me as much, but that may simply be because I absolutely love Ben Folds and his song, The Luckiest fits perfectly in both places.
Both Notting Hill and About Time deal with an American woman and British guy falling in love. But where Notting Hill is your more typical romantic comedy, with the couple going from blissfully happy to breaking up to getting back together, About Time avoids that and instead becomes an honest film about life and relationships, without the melodramatic clichés.
In Notting Hill there's the famous sequence where Will (Hugh Grant) walks through the outdoor market as the seasons change around him. It's a single shot montage that elegantly coveys the passage of time. In About Time we get a similar scene. Here it's the standard dating montage you'd expect in a romantic comedy, but instead of a variety of activities, we see them saying goodbye in the tube station day after day as they catch their separate trains to work. The clothing of the commuters indicates the changing seasons and we go from fall to spring.
That scene also plays with the fact that a lot of our days are identical. We go to the same places and do a lot of the same things over and over. Even when we have a "perfect day," it's never really as memorable as the little imperfections that help to differentiate and define each day. If everything was perfect, would we remember any of it?
About Time isn't perfect either, but it is really well written and genuinely funny. I highly recommend it.