Film Editor Alice Weltermann looks back at Richard Curtis’ About Time… and wholeheartedly recommends it
Richard Curtis makes me patriotic; he makes me believe that British men are all Hugh Grant deep down, and that Colin Firth might be real. Screenwriter for Four Weddings and a Funeral, Notting Hill, Bridget Jones’s Diary and Love Actually, Curtis has built his career on the rom-com. This is no mean feat; the romantic comedy is a hard-to-master equation of meet-cutes and cliches. In About Time, seasoned romcommer Curtis spins this formula on its head by adding the sci-fi element of time travel.
This works incredibly well as a plot mechanism as well as an effective metaphor for memory, culminating in a moving and heart-warming portrait of love and life. About Time wants to show that life is, much like the rules of time travel, messy and unfathomable.
When protagonist Tim (Domhall Gleeson) is told by his father (Bill Nighy) that he can travel back in time throughout his own life, he immediately steps into a wardrobe (Narnia style) and wishes himself into a redo of a tragic New Year’s kiss. In this moment and many others, ‘time travel’ serves as a metaphor for imagination, overcorrection, and wishful thinking- but unlike the rest of the population, Tim can actually correct his regretful moments. That is, until landmark events, such as the births of his children, alter his ability so that he cannot go back further. As a result, Tim is forced to choose between re-living and truly living.
Soon into the film, Tim leaves his brief infatuation with Charlotte (Margot Robbie) behind to pursue Mary (Rachel McAdams). She has a fringe and loves Kate Moss; he is ginger. Their story is endearing, starting with a literal ‘blind date’ in a restaurant where you eat in the dark. Tim’s life feels relatively normal as he navigates the Prets of London as a lawyer living with comically grumpy playwright Harry (Tom Hollander), using his secret hobby to try and track down Mary. Helped by his sister Kit Kat (Lydia Wilson), Tim manages to fall in love with her, get married and conceive a child in just over an hour.
Here, the film’s second act comes to a sudden end when the romantic plot between Mary (Rachel McAdams) and Tim is seemingly resolved. Although he doesn’t feel it necessary to tell her about his revolutionary talent, even after their marriage, their relationship provides a much-needed solid ground for the film that puts the rom in the com. It is pleasant to see a film of this genre keeping the audience privy to a relationship after marriage, with the plot moving on past a ‘happy ever after’. Indeed, this coveted fairytale conclusion is never quite proffered like you might expect, making the film more realistic. Problems keep cropping up, yet they cannot be overcome by a Cutis quip or by stepping into a cupboard and thinking really hard. In the third act, convention strands the viewer on a realistic island bereft of the magical elements we have come to expect.
Despite this, the film does not feel brutal or oppressively melancholy (although it has some truly sad moments). It ends with a feeling of acceptance; like time travel, life can be messy, fantastical, and like something you could never conceive in a dream. Yet also like time travel, life can be entrapping, unfathomable and a deeply bewildering experience.
This is a sweet, heart-warming watch that you can keep going back to after exhausting Mama Mia. It’s a film that feels like drinking a very good, not too-hot cup of tea made for you by a family member, or like a cat curling up on your lap just when you first sit down. If you would like to watch it, there’s About Time enough.
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