“About Time” is sweet, but often drags: Richard Curtis releases yet another film about importance of love


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When Tim’s father tells him that men in their family can travel through time, he urges his son to use his gift for something truly meaningful. “For me,” Tim tells the audience, “it was always going to be all about love.” If you can ignore the inconsistencies in his story,  and the occasionally questionable ways Tim employs his powers, “About Time” is a sweet and touching tale of love, both romantic and familial.

Released Nov. 1, “About Time” is told exclusively from the perspective of Tim, a self-reflective, occasionally self-deprecating young man whose awkwardness and sensitivity are expertly captured by Domhnall Gleeson. The film was written and directed by Richard Curtis, the creative force behind “Love Actually” and “Notting Hill,” and “About Time” has a similar feel to his previous blockbusters. Like most of us, Tim wants little more in life than to love and be loved, and the audience—unable to resist his puppydog eyes and unabashed vulnerability—is swept up in his quest to find love and ensure the happiness of the people he cares about most. When he flounders, we cringe; when he laughs, we smile. When he’s forced to say goodbye to someone he loves, the theater trembles with dozens of tiny shuddering sobs.

Unfortunately, this emotional intensity is derived from the film’s single-minded focus on each major relationship sequentially. Rather than having a single clear plot or climax, “About Time” seems to tell three separate stories, documenting Tim’s relationship with his wife (Rachel McAdams), sister (Lydia Wilson) and father (Bill Nighy). This approach makes the narrative drag; the two-hour film feels longer than it is. Worse, characters that are the central focus at one point are reduced to or elevated from plot devices whose sole purpose is to advance a new storyline.

Much of the film’s first third is dedicated to documenting Tim’s attempts to find his one true love. But the ways he employs his powers to ensure that a given woman thinks he’s cool and suave—redoing the same conversation or round of sex several times—feels icky. While it’s hard to imagine someone not using time-traveling powers this way, Tim still comes off as manipulative, and the viewer feels like he’s tricking women into liking him.

“About Time” also repeatedly mixes in a soulmate red herring—come on, movie, we all saw the trailer and movie poster, we know Tim’s not going to end up with that blonde girl. These are distractions of the lowest order, which fail to engage the audience beyond a few quick chuckles.

Although “About Time” was marketed as a romantic comedy, the shining jewel of the film is the relationship between Tim and his father. If their relationship seems tediously uncomplicated, it’s because the father uses his time-travelling powers to ensure that he and Tim never have any serious conflicts. Given the abilities of the two, the lack of obstacles to overcome or disputes to be worked out is beautiful, not moronic. Father and son love each other honestly and unreservedly, each using their gifts to maximize their time and love. Ultimately, “About Time” is as much about the lessons we learn from our parents as it is about the ones we learn from falling in love.

Remarkably, for a movie where every plot nuance relies on time travel, no one appears to have put much thought into paradoxes or rules. Tim’s father establishes three time travel laws, and each of these is broken at least once, with increasing frequency as the film progresses. The plot holes continue to pile up, even after Tim inevitably learns that time travel can’t solve every problem.

When Tim first learns that men in his family can travel in time, he asks about how his ancestors used their gifts. His father explains that his predecessors never found much happiness in procuring fortunes for themselves, and counsels Tim to use his gifts wisely. Although “About Time” is less extravagant and complicated than “Love Actually” or even “Notting Hill,” its central themes are the same: love completely, openly and wholeheartedly. If you’re craving a movie about the importance of cherishing the people you love, look no further than “About Time.”

Victoria is a senior studying biology and history. Follow her on Twitter @HillsVictoriaM.

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