If you could go back in time whenever you liked, introduce yourself to the object of your affections again and again and keep refining your pick up moves until eventually this person fell for you, does that make you a romantic or a creep? Is it true love or an elaborate manipulation?
The protagonist in About Time, the latest syrup-lacquered rom-com from Love Actually and Bridget Jones’ Diary writer/director Richard Curtis, discovers at age 21 that if he retreats to a quiet place and clenches his fists he can zap himself back to the past and relive any moment of his life.
Father and mentor Bill Nighy advises him not to go crazy. Keep your goals modest, he says, correctly inferring the story about to unfold will not be the stuff of Sports Alamanacs, DeLoreans and tricked-up phone booths.
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But boy, Tim Lake’s (Domhnall Gleeson) goals really are modest. He just wants a girl friend and is prepared to tolerate (even with the limitless gifts afforded to him) a mundane day job so he can come home and snuggle up to the gal of his dreams. That gal is Mary (Rachel McAdams) who falls for him, but in a sense never really had a choice. Is Tim being selfish or selfless?
There are several interesting moral and logical questions posed in About Time. Curtis is prepared to answer precisely none of them for two reasons: he doesn’t care for that whole science fiction thing and won’t tolerate painting his protagonist in a negative light, even temporarily.
Like Tim’s aspirations, About Time is modest. Curtis has made a fluffy middle of the road rom-com and his attitude seems to be that if viewers are lured in by a time travel twist, so much the better. That twist provides an enjoyable quasi-intellectual exercise, provided you don’t think about it much. There is a smattering of “whoops, rewind that!” jokes that work well and give the film a slight edge, albeit an edge Curtis is entirely uninterested in exploring.
Whether this is a virtue or a vice largely depends largely on your expectations. As a rom-com About Time is a reasonable success for unfussy audiences. It’s good-natured and thoughtfully constructed, with a flabby middle act and a cheesy finish.
As a time travel movie it doesn’t offer anything remotely innovative. When it looks like it might, Curtis quickly aborts mission.
About Time’s Australian theatrical release dateL October 18, 2013.