At the age of 21, Tim Lake (Domhnall Gleeson) discovers he can travel in time… The night after another unsatisfactory New Year party, Tim’s father (Bill Nighy) tells his son that the men in his family have always had the ability to travel through time. Tim can’t change history, but he can change what happens and has happened in his own life-so he decides to make his world a better place…by getting a girlfriend. Sadly, that turns out not to be as easy as you might think. Moving from the Cornwall coast to London to train as a lawyer, Tim finally meets the beautiful but insecure Mary (Rachel McAdams). They fall in love, then an unfortunate time-travel incident means he’s never met her at all. So they meet for the first time again-and again-but finally, after a lot of cunning time-traveling, he wins her heart. Tim then uses his power to create the perfect romantic proposal, to save his wedding from the worst best-man speeches, to save his best friend from professional disaster and to …(Imdb)
After seeing “About Time,” a time-travel fantasy that is basically “Groundhog Day” with Brit accents, a nice-bloke hero and minus a rodent (unless you count a rat of a boyfriend), I realize I have a problem.
I cannot help but fall for Richard Curtis’s rather self-indulgent romantic comedies. My level head might be crying ‘No,’ but my lopsided heart can’t help but say yes. For me, resistance is futile when it comes to his scripts for “The Tall Guy,” “Four Weddings and a Funeral,” “Notting Hill” and “Bridget Jones’ Diary” (which he co-wrote along with the unfortunate sequel that shall not be named).
Of course, “Love Actually,” his 2003 directorial debut, is a towering multi-layered masterwork that fairly oozes gooey woo and has grown into an annual Christmas TV tradition with its parade of befuddled Englishmen in varying stages of amorous yuletide desire.
I do draw the line, however, with his efforts with Mr. Bean—an enterprise that is essentially Jacques Tati’s Monsieur Hulot for dummies—and his unwatchable second directing effort, “Pirate Radio,” that saw the likes of Philip Seymour Hoffman and Bill Nighy (Curtis’s go-to secret weapon of mass appeal) go down with the ship amid much sleazebag behavior.
But during the course of being seduced by his current paean to the power of love and its underlying message to simply live each day as if it were your last, this thought occurred: Something about Curtis’s films allow cinematic endorphins to be released into the brain and generate a state of euphoria that is akin to absolute bliss.
To experience it, you just have to allow the analytical parts of your mind to unclench during the dodgier bits of business—all these pasty well-off people and their problems, oh woe is them!—and go with the feel-good flow.
And so I did until the last third or so with “About Time” and began to especially admire the often-impeccable casting in movies that feature Curtis’s handiwork. At 53, Hugh Grant—a former mainstay—has matured far beyond impersonating fluttery-eyed fumblers in the throes of courtship. But the filmmaker has found a perfect replacement in the abundantly beguiling presence of Domhnall Gleeson, the son of Brendan Gleeson of “In Bruges” and Mad-Eye Moody fame.
Not that you would know it from the young Irish actor’s last big role, the somber, bushy-bearded landowner Levin in last year’s “Anna Karenina.” Here, though, he is slightly more grounded than Grant (and his copper hair color provides fodder for ginger jokes, an Anglo staple) as Tim, a lawyer-to-be who is gobsmacked to learn at age 21 that the men in his wealthy family of eccentrics share the ability to go back in time. That the news is delivered in the most charming off-handedly fashion by his father in the form of Nighy, who never fails to amuse at the very least and astonishes almost always whenever he is onscreen, undercuts the questions that nitpickers might have about the process.
One major caveat: You can only revisit and revise portions of your own life. Or as Nighy puts it, “You can’t kill Hitler or shag Helen of Troy.” That Tim tends to go into a Narnia-esque wardrobe to begin his detours into the past adds a quaintly homey touch that is light years away from Star Trek or even H.G. Wells.
Once he is over the shock, Tim decides to concentrate on using his newfound ability to improve his love life. After fixing a disastrous New Year’s kiss situation but failing to convince a comely summer visitor to give him a chance, he gets serious about his settling-down pursuits after moving to London. There he encounters an American named Mary (Rachel McAdams at her most infectiously fetching) who is mad about Kate Moss, prattles on about her too-short bangs while referring to them as “fringe” and will be revealed to have quite good taste in stylish frocks.
During one of Curtis’s typically untypical romantic meet-cute interludes, he has the pair first run into one another during what amounts to a literal blind date at an actual restaurant named Dans Le Noir, where patrons dine in complete darkness and are served by sight-impaired waiters.
For Tim and Mary, it’s a case of like at first unsight after a server decides to seat them together along with their less-than-a-perfect-match friends. She quickly gives him her number once outside the eatery. From there, typical relationship moments tumble by—the first real date, the first sexual encounter, the sharing of living space, the meeting of parents, the proposal, the exceptional rainy-day wedding sequence (you will be Googling Jimmy Fontana and his song, Il Mondo) and so on, all repeated, reshaped and improved slightly by Tim’s time-travel twiddling.
Until then, it is easy to ignore the nagging what-ifs the premise presents. But once babies get involved and potentially sad verging on tragic situations complicate matters, Tim can’t so blithely alter his reality without unwanted consequence. At this point, you will either put up with “About Time” or think it’s about time you leave, especially if you have issues with a husband who thinks it’s OK to continue to keep his magical do-overs a secret from the person who is now his wife. But do stay, if only to witness Nighy’s awesome ping-pong pantomime at the very least.
One character provides the true bliss litmus test of whether or not you are immune to the Curtis effect: Kit Kat (Lydia Wilson), Tim’s impossibly offbeat nature sprite sister who adores purple T-shirts, apparently doesn’t own a comb, gives hugs that are more like full-contact body slams, is prone to dating awful men and is ill-equipped to cope adulthood. In other words, Kit Kat typifies the dreaded Manic Pixie Dream Girl at her worst.
My favorite part of “About Time” has nothing to do with the love story, however, and has everything to do with Tom Hollander as a deeply nasty playwright—who briefly is Tim’s landlord and, this being Curtis World, is wickedly funny. When Tim learns that the premiere of his scabrous friend’s latest production was a complete disaster after an actor goes blank while delivering a big speech, he of course decides to fix it.
That the stars of the show are none other than the esteemed Richard Griffiths and Richard E. Grant in invaluable cameo roles and that they end up provoking some of the biggest laughs of the movie demonstrates why Curtis is a comedy genius. If only he knew when to step back in time and make a few changes himself.
Sunday 8 September 2013
It’s easy to sneer at Richard Curtis‘s movies, which (by the writer/director’s own admission) are populated almost entirely by “people I know, and like” – people for whom financial hardship means a slow day at the bookstore, Notting Hill is a middle-class milquetoast enclave, Hugh Grant is prime minister and airports scan passengers not for weapons or drugs, but for love, actually. Welcome, then, to the rambling seaside abode of another thoroughly genial family, replete with a dotty uncle, doolally sister and tea-loving mum, presided over by Bill Nighy as the Best Dad in the Whole World Ever.
On the eve of his son’s ascent to manhood, Dad reveals a family secret – the men in their lineage have the ability to travel in time. After swiftly dispensing with the hard financial and philosophical questions (never met a happy rich person, don’t worry about the “butterfly effect” etc), Curtis sets his sights once again on romance, with Tim (Domhnall Gleeson) using his new-found skills to “get a girlfriend”, and thence to relive and refine his courtship on eternal play and rewind. Naturally, as events progress, he learns that the real trick is simply to live in the moment, without recourse to the Time Lord antics. And so it proves with Curtis, too, who sets up his rules of temporal engagement, only to break them willy-nilly whenever the prospect of an extra hug rears its head.
And what a hug it is. For all the oddly naff naughtiness (Curtis owes a weird seaside-postcard debt to Benny Hill and Carry On) and familiarly hesitant one-liners, this has a Capra-esque tendency toward tearfulness and you’d have to be pretty hard-hearted not to succumb to the glimpses of a wonderful life captured in the quiet moments shared by Nighy and Gleeson – the true romance at the heart of this drama. Yes, Gleeson overdoes the Hugh Grant-isms, while Rachel McAdams plays a Time Traveller’s Wife for the third time in recent memory. Yes, it’s baggy and overlong, qualities heightened whenever Curtis is behind the camera as well as the typewriter. And, no, the edgy smarts of the leaner, meanerGroundhog Day are not on the menu. But like Julia Roberts asking us to forget all that other stuff and just love her anyway in Notting Hill, About Time wants us to put aside our cynical reservations and accept an extra pint from the milkman of human kindness. As I stood outside the preview screening watching middle-aged men and women alike wiping away a tear, it was evident that, for all its flaws, the film had indeed delivered.
The Guardian , Thursday 8 August 2013
As far as we know, Richard Curtis cannot travel through time. But the kingpin of the Britcom can get a huge movie off the ground. And, along with the possible, Curtis has managed to achieve the impossible. Specifically: he has gone back to 1993 and remade Groundhog Day with a ginger Hugh Grant.
About Time, Curtis’s third film as director as well as writer following Love, Actually (2003) and The Boat that Rocked (2009), is about as close to home as a homage can get without calling in the copyright team. What throws you off the scent are those other notes that flood out from the first frame – heady remembrances of Curtis films past. There’s the familiar lush locations: the rambling coastal pad where our hero grows up with parents Bill Nighy and Lindsay Duncan, then the London digs to which he decamps when starting out at the bar – a Smeg-ready mansion owned by Tom Hollander’s church-mouse playwright.
There’s the vaguely disabled family member (in this case, a permanently befuddled uncle), the regulation scatty sister who needs redeeming (Lydia Wilson). And, all present and correct, the bright-smiled American goddess (Rachel McAdams) who will rescue our bumbling toff.
And, of course, there’s Hugh Grant – or rather, a new hybrid version in lieu of the real deal. He certainly sounds like Grant (so much so that you half suspect a dub job), but that distinctive voice comes from the body of gangly Irish actor Domhnall Gleeson, son of Brendan, alumnus of Harry Potter. The effect, at first, is unnerving; as About Time marches on, Gleeson’s innate charm gleams through and this weird disconnection becomes quite compelling.
Gleeson plays Tim, who is told at 21 that all male members of his family have been able to time travel. You just pop into a cupboard, or somewhere small and dark like the downstairs loo or the servants’ quarters, clench your fists, imagine a time and place in your past, and bingo. There are some quirks of course – some slightly moth-eaten logic about the effect that, say, having children has on your epoch-hopping abilities. But that’s basically it.
And, accordingly, Tim uses what might feel quite an earth-shattering skill to fry fairly small fish – primarily, to woo McAdams. They run into each other and hit it off, but Tim accidentally deletes that evening and so must engineer another meet-cute. A successful one. So follows the film’s meatiest section, in which Tim makes and then erases gaffe after gaffe in pursuit of his squeeze-to-be.
So far, so familiar, but it’s not the indebtedness that deadens thecomedy. What does is an uncarbonated script, and the fact that Tim’s motives feel opportunistic, for all his romantic protestations. When Bill Murray had to rewind and start again through the course of one endlessly relived evening courting Andie MacDowell in Groundhog Day, he was pretty basely motivated. Yet what allowed Murray’s character to ultimately break the curse was not copping off with the girl, but realising that he needed to be a better man. There is nothing like that here. And so, as Tim heads back for another pop once he knows McAdams’s bra fastens at the front, it just feels a bit like grooming.
There are bright points; a few awkward lines that give rise to big laughs, scenes of real tenderness between Gleeson and Nighy. You feel a true Scrooge balking at a movie message which urges you to make the most of every day, however humdrum it might appear. But there’s something grating about being instructed to do so by a character whose “ordinary little life” is objectively pretty minted, and who doesn’t in fact need to make the most of every moment on account of perhaps the most screwy example of primogeniture you could ever imagine.
Curtis’s heart is in the right place. In fact, it’s all over the place – front and centre and backlighting the whole thing with a benevolent glow. But it is hard not to watch this, read the news that it will probably be his last as a director, and look to the future.
The Guardian , Thursday 5 September 2013
Richard Curtis‘s film is a good-natured fantasy romance of such utterable daftness that it’s impossible to dislike. Criticising it is like vivisecting a Labrador puppy. All the traditional Curtis items are in place, including a jolly cast of upper-class folk, a wacky/vulnerable kid sister, characters who go into strange Curtis-speak under pressure (“Oh my arsing God in a box!”), and a Hugh-Grant-replicant leading man: 30-year-old Domhnall Gleeson sounds so much like the young Grant I suspected he’d been dubbed. But there are some nice gags and some ingenious narrative turns in Curtis’s well-carpentered screenplay.
Gleeson plays Tim, the shy son of eccentric, well-off parents (Bill Nighy and Lindsay Duncan). At 21, he leaves the family nest in Cornwall to take up his barrister pupillage in London and, yearning for love, meets Mary (Rachel McAdams), whose under-par frock and non-glam fringe can’t deflect his and our appreciation of what a babe she is. Their relationship is, however, made fraught by Tim’s secret superpower: he can travel back in time to any point in his own past, and correct his dopey mistakes, though creating new ones along the way. This is nearer to Sliding Doors than the dyspeptic Groundhog Day. Curtis is a director who likes his spoonful of sugar, and isn’t shy of breaking out Arvo Pärt on the soundtrack to make sure we recognise the sad bits. (Come to think of it, Jean-Luc Godard has done the same sentimental thing in Origins of the 21st Century, though the comparison of these two directors is best left there.) You’ll need a sweet tooth for this film, but it’s heartfelt, with a fragile sort of sincerity.