About Time: A Review

I wrote a difficult column this week, finishing it a few moments ago, so now I will write something fun. I believe that was our arrangement.

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“There’s nothing new in the world except for the history you don’t know,” Harry Truman is supposed to have said, a thought that makes me tingle a little at the truth but is fodder for all sorts of variations, to wit: There’s nothing new in the world except that TV series you haven’t streamed yet.

Or movie. You know. Possibly books, but I’m really talking about streaming here.

Because you know it’s crazy. I’ve talked about it here a bunch. Recommendations on what excellent show I should be watching are not welcome, needed, wanted, or appreciated. Maybe once in a while, but c’mon. Nobody has the time, and even if they did they probably don’t need the time, if you get me. We’re sedentary enough (goes for you big readers, too, you know).

Movies seem different, although to me the same thinking applies. I’ll gladly take a brief personal recommendation to see something in theaters, but I don’t appreciate a lot of declarative statements. It’s not gonna change my life and you can’t make it. Maybe I’ll see it, maybe not. I can always show you my backlog list of 150 titles.

But I want to write about a movie I saw last night, and so I will. It’s five years old, so there’s no pressure. If you get around to it, and you’re interested, that’s all.

I’m gonna get you interested, though. Some of you.

And my apologies to those of you who know this film, love it or whatever. I like to think I’ve got my finger on the pulse of the film world, but I’d like to think I look in pastels and I really don’t, so. I might have missed this and forgotten I did.

 Richard Curtis

Richard Curtis

For the rest of you, though, the basics: About Time was written by Richard Curtis, who also directed it, in 2013. Curtis is the writer behind pretty much everything funny, sentimental, and British, including Notting Hill, The Vicar of Dibley, Four Weddings and a Funeral, Black Adder, the Bridget Jones movies, and, ahem, Love Actually (he also directed the latter, as well as About Time).

He’s only two years older than me, which makes perfect sense. I’d write movies like this. Probably not as good, but certainly as romantic and stuffed with sentiment.

So I just missed this one. I saw it pop up on HBO, and when I noticed that Rachel McAdams was in it my attention was held. I really like Rachel McAdams.

It also stars Domhnall Gleeson (who played Bill Weasley in the Harry Potter series), as well as a remarkably subtle and sweet performance by Bill Nighy, of all people. All of this was sweet.

Curtis tempers his obvious desire to jerk our tears and quiver our hearts with quirky plot devices (a lovesick Brit keeps running into his American crush at big events, a movie star falls in love with a bookseller, whatever the hell Love Actually was), and About Time pulls out the stops in a fun way.

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Maybe it was a challenge. If we’ll buy the Prime Minister of Great Britain falling in love with a secretary and Alan Rickman contemplating cheating on Emma Thompson (like anyone wouldn’t worship Emma), we might buy anything. Even a movie without Hugh Grant. Where’s the challenge?

So we get a love story with a twist: one of the characters can travel in time.

What, you say? Time travel? Never seen that in a movie. Wait.

On his 21st birthday, at some point before he leaves home to be a lawyer in London, Tim (Gleeson, just wonderful in this) is told by his dad (Nighy) that the men in his family have a secret ability to travel in time, only backwards and only to events in their own lives. They go into a dark place, like a closet (cupboard in Britspeak), close their eyes, clench their fists, think of a time and place and there they are.

It is, of course, reminiscent of any number of stories. I can think of a dozen right now. Wait a little more.

Tim’s initial ideas, once he was fully onboard (his first reaction to Dad’s announcement is quite funny and natural), aren’t surprising; he thinks about going back in time and getting rich, because who doesn’t need a little extra money? Dad shakes him off, merely by pointing out that money doesn’t really solve much. This is kind of a fantasy movie, if that wasn’t clear.

In fact, toward the end of the film Nighy tells him the real secret to using time travel, which is wonderful and which you will literally have to wait for.

What he learns to do with his power, in fact, is lovely and funny and feels perfectly normal, in a time-traveling way. He fixes missed opportunities, mostly. And along the way, he runs into a paradox or two, although science-fiction fans will have plenty to quibble about. I’m sure British political experts had a bunch to say about the prime minister’s fictional love life, too. Moving on.

This is, essentially, a romantic-comedy with a touch of magic, just to keep it interesting. And I thought it was wonderful.

I was always going to. It wasn’t just Rachel; as with his other films, Curtis gives us just enough sadness to understand that love is not always all around, actually, but just enough. The rest is just sweetness and romance and fun, and of course I’m a sap. Always. Plenty of people will sneer, and justifiably so. I wish I could care.

I loved it. If you’re like me in this way, so will you. And the ending, when Nighy tells his son about the true advantage of looking backwards, you’ll understand why you love it. But you have to wait.

Chuck SigarsComment