About Time

About Time photo starrating-2stars.jpgRichard Curtis the writer can manipulate emotions with the skill of a pro. He is the architect behind the screenplays of such paeans to love as Four Weddings and a Funeral, Notting Hill, and Love Actually. The last of which he also directed. His take has always resonated on an emotional level with me so I greeted About Time with open arms. But here, for the first time, his perspective isn’t so noble. The result is his most self-centered take on love yet.

A poor sad sack of a fellow had just been told by his dad that the men in their family have the power to go back in time upon reaching their 21st birthday. Now if you’re asking yourself, but how? You’re already too smart for this claptrap. You simply walk into the nearest dark closet, clench your fists, and wiggle your nose. Ok, so I made that last part up, but the rest is the gospel truth straight from the movie. I’m willing to suspend disbelief and the logical explanation of a DeLorean and/or a wormhole to accept hokum if it serves a good story. So does he use his extraordinary gift for the betterment of humankind? Ah nothing so altruistic. No, he harnesses the ability to win the woman of his dreams. Now here’s where it gets a bit icky. The chronicle is infected with purely self seeking motives which underlie everything our protagonist does. You see it doesn’t really matter what women need in his world. It’s all about him and what Tim craves is sweet, lovable American girl Mary.

It’s nice to see Rachel McAdams in any movie. Mary is played with genuine sweetness by the actress and her charisma smoothes over a lot of vexing plot points. She is cheerfully oblivious to Tim abilities. Witness when she falls in love with another guy, Tom is able to “fix” things so that she never even meets what could have been the man of her dreams. Tim is actor Domhnall Gleeson, best known as Bill Weasley in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – Parts 1 and 2. This is a role that Hugh Grant could’ve easily embodied with a lot more personality. Although as great as Hugh Grant is, I question whether even he could make a character driven by such egocentric goals, seem sheepishly adorable. The script so desperately tries to portray Tim in this way. Domhnall Gleeson’s motivation is so self serving he’s more Ugh Grant than Hugh Grant.

Richard Curtis slathers on the adult contemporary hits and stocks the cast with a coterie of wacky stock characters from a sitcom. On the surface, there’s a vague “I did it all for love” mentality that might not seem so pernicious. But this is a purely one-sided affair. Tim is exploitative, deluding an unfortunate woman to benefit his own greedy ends regardless of her feelings. It’s pretty creepy. I kept waiting for some moral comeuppance. Some instance where our “hero” would learn that women are not objects to be manipulated, but it never comes. Furthermore there is very little in the way of conflict for Tim because any time something doesn’t go quite the way he wants, he can merely zip back in time and re-do the moment so that it’s perfect. There’s one particularly troublesome suggestion that he actually sleeps with Mary 3 times in the same night, unbeknownst to her, until he gets the experience right. I wonder how she would’ve felt knowing that once she says yes, he can have his way with her over and over without her consent. Groundhog Day did this subject infinitely better and that comedy acknowledged the inherent ethical dilemma of deceiving people to suit your own selfish desires. That’s clearly the inspiration for this. At its best the message of About Time is treacle and at its worst it’s downright immoral.

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21 Responses to “About Time”

  1. I feel like I’ve heard the name Richard Curtis somewhere. Then again it’s probably a common name.

    Anyway. I cracked up on your DeLorean line. I didn’t expect About Time to be a movie that needed Doc or Marty McFly to improve. It actually looked somewhat decent to me, but I guess the movie gods weren’t really calling me to see it either.

    • Hmmm….and the other movies I listed in my intro didn’t sound familiar? Perhaps that’s where you heard the name Richard Curtis.

      • (I should’ve clarified. I typed that at 4 in the morning.)

        I’d heard of Notting Hill, but I knew it for Julia Roberts. Heard of Love Actually but associated it with its British cast. Four Weddings and a Funeral, but for Mike Newell. So what I meant was I THINK I knew who Curtis was; I just never associated him with those films.

  2. Well then… It’s a shame you didn’t see this film the same way I did. I mean, it doesn’t sound like you liked it at all which is very discouraging. But to each his own. I know I’ve read a few of your reviews I don’t agree with, but that’s what makes all of this oh so fun.

    What are your thoughts on Love Actually, out of curiosity?

  3. Nick, I’m on the same train of thought as you concerning this one. Really loved it and won’t be surprised if it makes my year end top ten list. I’m really surprised by this Mark, I found the time travel hokum to be nothing more than a tool to get at the point Curtis was ultimately trying to make. That it serves a slight twist on the genre was all the better for me.

    • I was surprised to find such an unsettling viewpoint in what supposed to be a lighthearted romantic comedy: that this woman was something to be manipulated so this guy could get what he wanted. It was terribly one-sided. It went past boring into offensive for me.

      • GaryLee828 Says:

        I thought this was supposed to be a drama. On the trailer I watched, a lot of the story seemed to be about his relationship with his ailing father. It didn’t strike me as a romantic-comedy at all.

      • There are dramatic elements but it’s a romantic comedy at heart. The father is part of the “coterie of wacky stock characters from a sitcom.” As the love interest, Rachel McAdams’ part is much bigger.

  4. Nice premise, but not fully explored to the best of its ability. Instead, time-travel is shown as a simple ploy where guys can lie to women for days on end, and somehow, just get them to fall head-over-heels in love with them. Nice review Mark.

  5. I managed to see this film yesterday. Yes it is true, that Gleeson’s Tim does use this time travel tool for his own ends and the results are clearly the objectification of the women he encounters. To begin with.

    Once Dad (Bill Nighy) passes on the family secret that the men in the famiy do have this power (whch is limited to time travel only within their own lifetimes and strictly not for avarice or greed) Tim says he hopes he can use it to find himself a girl friend.

    It works favorably ( in a do-over sense) with the gorgeous Charlotte, but Tim learns that the ‘power’ can not create love where it doesn’t exist. So Charlotte moves on and out of Tim’s life (however not quite forever).

    Then Tim meets Mary, played winsomely by the always likeable Rachel McAdams. And yes – Mark – has given us all the details of how Tim exploits time correctly, but only up to a point.

    The thing of it is – that Tim doesn’t use the time travel thing indiscriminatly and just for his own sexual needs. There’s a playwright who mhe helps, and an associate at the law-firm, and then his own sister.

    Basically what I am saying is that Tim begins on the path described in Mark’s review. But he does makes a course correction. Tim desired Mary, and Mary also desired Tim – it wasn’t as one sided as Mark tells.

    By the end, Tim is a good husband, father, and family man. There is no lengthy list of conquests. As Tim in a moment of contemplation says to us in a voice over, at the end, that his life (despite the gift of the time travel) has been a life that is extraordinarily ordinary.

    Curtis was tempted with the thought of having Tim stay on that dark road, and yes, the film sort of blithely sets aside how the women feel – but only to a point. The course correction changes everything.

    • A real course correction would’ve been, Tim shouldn’t lie. But after it doesn’t work with the first girl, he just tries again.

      Mary desires Tim because of his deception. He charms her by relying on information he wouldn’t have known otherwise. His ability to time travel gives him a distinct advantage to manipulate her feelings to suit his own desires.

      I would’ve preferred a more level playing field. Perhaps if Mary had this advantage too it wouldn’t have seemed so creepy. At the very least, Tim should have confessed what he did and told Mary about his power. Deceiving people is not the way to behave in a relationship.

      • Mark, all of what you say is true. I am definitely not commending Tim’s activities, or motives. In my review I clearly state that Tim’s use of the time travel ability results in the objectification of the women.

        And yes – Tim was not only deceptive generally, but he never cleared the decks wqitrh Mary. Of course Bill Nighy’s Dad played his cards the same way, and Tim’s Mum also never found out the reality.

        But the film ends positively without Tim having had a growing list of conquests. Which is why I called it a course correction.

  6. From the moment Rachel enters the scene after the dark dinner. I knew I was gonna like this. I felt the connection between the two immediately. So all the time travel didn’t bother me, and nothing was harmful or done out of evilness. And most of it was funny. In the end everything worked out where everyone was happy. No more need for travel. So, for me, it worked. 3 1/2 stars

  7. Huh. Haven’t seen this yet, but you raise some interesting points. Hopefully, I’ll see something in it that you didn’t, whenever I finally get around to viewing it.

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