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Friday, November 8, 2013

Chris's Review: ‘About Time’ is a tender family drama disguised as time-traveling rom-com

All the commercials and ads for About Time (as the above poster shows) would lead one to believe that it is a charming little romantic-comedy from the director of Love Actually. And while it is that (to a degree, or at least for the first half), the film is actually a tender, mostly-dramatic guidebook (with some comedic bits sprinkled in) on appreciating family and getting the best out of life while you still can.

To accomplish both aspects, the film uses the mostly well-worn tread of time travel as the major plot device. But Back to the Future this is not. This version of time travel (coming from unexplained origins) is preambled with a fairly simple, but restrictive set of rules to keep the story contained. First off, the traveler – limited to the male members of the family – can only travel within their own lifetime and to places they specifically remember. Second, changing the past is difficult and not without consequence. We are not talking major “butterfly effect” ripples, but still profound alterations. And finally, using travel for monetary gain is ill-advised – eventually, it only causes unhappiness.

Learning of his newfound gift (and the accompanying rules) on New Year’s Day of his 21st year, Tim sets out to find his true love – or at least just a girlfriend. This, of course, is where the romantic-comedy angle is in full effect. After a series of missteps and time-traveling do-overs, he charmingly accomplishes this goal.

Sounds like fairly typical, rom-com stuff, right? It is, but that is only the first half of the movie. This early part is an enjoyable ride too – funny, charming, awkward, sweet – but nothing particularly distinctive. But after he gets the girl, the film noticeably shifts its focus to family, loss, and all the simple joys of life. This is where the movie really distinguishes itself from the rest of the genre’s typical fluff.

Given the nature of the film there are, of course, a few saccharine and slightly gimmicky moments (an entire dinner scene taking place in a pitch back restaurant, etc.) – it is almost unavoidable. But the film never stumbles for long, able to quickly regain its footing with grace and charm.

The most recognizable name in the cast is Rachel McAdams, who apparently forgot she starred in another time-traveling drama/rom-com just a few years ago (or perhaps she is making up for its misfire). She is as lovely as can be, but relegated mostly to the backseat, especially as the film progresses.

 The deserving breakout star of the film is Domhall Gleeson, our slightly dorky, but well-intentioned time traveler. The son of Irish character actor Brendan Gleeson, young Domhall is not very known in the states (despite high rofile roles in the later Harry Potter films, Never Let Me Go, True Grit, Dredd, and Anna Karenina), but proves to be a worthy, if untraditional, lead.

And finally, the great Bill Nighy is delightful, as usual. Effortlessly stealing every scene he is in with a lethal combination of stoicism and quirkiness – kind of like a British Christopher Walken.

Writer-director Richard Curtis is very well known for his romantic comedies – not only writing-directing Love Actually, but also penning both Bridget Jones’ Diary films, Notting Hill, and Four Weddings and Funeral. And while all those film certainly have their merits (some more than others), his latest effort is something different. It may not be destined to be quite as beloved as those others, but About Time is more layered and poignant – a film that is much more than the typical romantic-comedy it is being billed as. It delivers a sweet and affecting message while still maintaining its lightness and delightful tone. Overall, a surprisingly enjoyable and thoughtful film.

* * * * out of 5 stars

This review originally appeared on Chris's official review page. Check it out and other reviews on

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