During the opening salvo of About Time, Richard Curtis’ gushing sci-fi daydream, Tim Lake is informed by his impossibly cool father that men in their family, like seemingly all Brits these days, have the ability to travel through time. Once successfully conveying this theoretical impossibility, Father Lake inquires how Tim shall utilize this wondrous gift. “To get a girlfriend.” Tim’s answer may have been poorly worded, but he was new to this super-powered confidence; otherwise, he would have correctly stated, “To find love.” Tim’s father, played by the ever-perfect Bill Nigh, gives his trademark smirk. “Wow. Massive.” Indeed, within Richard Curtis’ world, there is nothing bigger. Whether a fan of Curtis’ unique blend of sentimentality with unabashed sincerity or a fierce critic of what many perceive as greeting card schmaltz, it is hard to argue anybody does it better than the filmmaker behind Four Weddings and a Funeral, Notting Hill, and the ultimate roll-call rom-com, Love, Actually. So, when he returns to this genre after a nearly a decade, what does he have to say? About Timeis a romantic flight of fancy for the Comic-Con set, a cinematic Valentine for the next Whovian Convention. To be sure these characters still exist in the same idyllic bubble as all other Curtis heroes and heroines, one where careers, friendships and even international politics are little more than the frivolous ornamentations around the centerpiece of pure, all-consuming love. Take this not as a criticism, as there are few storytellers, never mind filmmakers, who can view the everyday passions of ordinary folk with such an unending fascination and earnest optimism, even if one must enter a large wooden box, as you do, and time-travel to find it. Sadly, this box may not be larger on the inside, but fortunately the heart on this movie’s sleeve is infinite in its scale. Starring Domhnall Gleeson of Harry Potter fame, Curtis’ fantasy is one of wisely stripped down logic. All the men in the Lake family can time-travel because they can. Why not? As Woody Allen once described the reality-melding romance of The Purple Rose of Cairo, nobody asks questions if a story has confidence in its absurdity. They just do. There are of course several quid pro quos to this gift. The Lake men can only go BACKWARDS into their own timeline before returning to the present. There is no peaking into the future or “Shagging Helen of Troy” to Nigh’s eternal disappointment. But one does have the near infinite ability to improve his own life how he sees fit. For Tim’s professorial father, that’s meant finding the time to read every book under the sun twice—three times for Charles Dickens. Yet, for Tim it is undoubtedly a quest for love. Despite there being several false starts, Tim has the winsome storytelling ability to meet the love of his life for the first time on three separate occasions. Mary (Rachel McAdams) is an All-American sweetheart who curiously is absent of any flaws other than a predisposition to worship Kate Moss. Due to timeline-crossing shenanigans, Tim has to woo her repeatedly, but every episode is pleasant, upbeat and adorably cute. Actually, this is the case for the entire film. The most glaring critique of the movie would be that Tim’s semi-charmed life is never anything but simply that. Nearly every crisis he confronts, whether it is the need to properly propose to Mary or to find the perfect best man for his wedding, is only a jump and a tumble in the nearest closet away. With such a catchall solution to any conflict, the movie risks boring audiences from its complete lack of drama (at least of the suspenseful kind). Yet, what is a romantic comedy if not a predictably comforting piece of celluloid confection? There should be little doubt in any potential viewer’s mind about the trajectory of Tim’s self-confessed extraordinarily ordinary existence. It is in the warmth of that Gordian life that we’re pulled in, and Tim and Mary’s romance is irresistibly infectious.
However, the stronger relationship inarguably belongs to the father and son. Gleeson and McAdams may glisten with a river of chemistry, but it is in the love of family and fathers-and-sons in particular that feels the most fresh for the writer/director. Obviously happy to give Nigh more screentime, Tim’s early home life with his father is never anything less than beguiling, as sardonic disinterested banter is undoubtedly easier to convey without earning the pesky eye-rolls of cynics. That central relationship also generously trickles down to the rest of Tim’s underdeveloped and happy-go-lucky clan, including Mother (Lindsay Duncan), Uncle Desmond (Richard Cordery) and earthy sister Kit Kat (Lydia Wilson). These are people who have tea every afternoon on their beachside property and enjoy outdoor movies, even in the rain, each Friday evening. However, there is a touch of tragedy around Kit Kat’s free spirit, which slowly turns into a suffocating chain as the years pass. But all nasty blemishes in life are ultimately swept aside in a narrative about the ties that bind in less destructive ways. The rest of the supporting cast enjoys moments of deflective humor that keeps the melodrama at bay for most of the About Time’s running time, and a cleverly inventive conceptual device—never before used in a time-travel story that I’m aware of—allows for some nifty third act hand-wringing. But in the end, it is merely a unique way to facilitate the necessity of accepting life the way it is by looking forward. Only in the hands of such a sentimentalist could time-travel be extrapolated as just another mirror or vantage point for one to see the inherent beauty of a life well lived. There will likely be some to cry foul at this hopeful and affable vision as a distorted image, but from here it looks unrepentantly appealing. Den of Geek Rating: 4 out of 5 Stars