Either writer/director Richard Curtis is compensating for perhaps spending his formative years locked in a lonely, dark closet or he is, quite simply, the reincarnation of Cupid (the god of love, not the diapered fella who pops up on greeting cards every Valentine’s Day). There’s really no other way to explain how he has such a profound and resonating grasp of all things having to do with love.
Four Weddings and a Funeral, Notting Hill, and Love Actually all came from inside his brain. And though each could have been a sloppy, overly sentimental mess, they all currently reside at or near the top of the list of great, profoundly intricate cinematic love stories.
After a four year directing break, Curtis has returned with About Time, a worthy addition to that list and a clear sign that he hasn’t lost anything along the way. This go-round, Curtis is tackling love by way of a bit of the supernatural, but it’s no less genuine, heartfelt, and, frankly, brilliant.
When slightly dorky Tim Lake (Domhnall Gleeson) turns 21, he gets invited into his dad’s study for a talk. Instead of a bit of fatherly advice, though, Dad (Bill Nighy) lets Tim in on the family secret– the men in the family, he says, have the ability to travel back in time. Not throughout history, mind you… just back to something in your life that’s already happened. It gives you the chance to change something you may have done wrong (or, in one brilliant example Curtis gives us, relive something that went right– over and over again.)
I know, I know… you’re thinking, “Ack, another silly little retread of Groundhog Day,” right? Yeah, no. About Time is a spot-on romantic comedy (remember those?) with just enough drama (and even tears) to emerge as a well-rounded movie that’s as hilarious as it is heart-warming.
Shortly after learning about his newfound ability, Tim meets Mary (Rachel McAdams), an American working as a book editor in London. They are, of course, a great match, and Gleeson and McAdams share a chemistry that rivals what she had with Ryan Gosling in 2004’s The Notebook. Tim fumbles a bit at the start of their relationship, but he uses his time travel sparingly, and their love grows naturally. It’s a wise decision by Curtis, who could have easily just used it repetitively as a slap-sticky gimmick.
And, as he’s done with his other stories (Four Weddings and Love Actually, especially), he gives equal time to secondary plots and the supporting cast, too. Tim’s first crush is never completely forgotten, his sister Kit Kat (Lydia Wilson) has a significant and timeline-altering role, and even Tim’s goofy friends, who could have been relegated to comic relief status, are well-drawn.
You may walk into About Time expecting a clichéd, treacly bit of gooey-ness, and, heck, even I didn’t think there was any way it could approach the quality of Curtis’ other work… but damn if I didn’t find myself ecstatic to be along for the ride. It may just be one of recent cinema’s best movies about love, actually.