A time travel rom-com has been done, of course, by Richard Curtis – godfather of the Boys’ Own Arrested Developments subgenre – but rarely does Curtis touch upon the nature of romantic comedy’s protagonists, and the fact that their behaviour would normally be considered clingy at best, emotionally insane at worst.
The Infinite Man can’t resist some staples of comedy, but for it to work it needs to – and does – address the creepy and desperate behaviour of its protagonist. If anything, it lacks the courage of conviction to see it through, with a more profound statement possible instead of the halfway house ending it settles on. Genre conventions are difficult to shift, but at least it manages to present us with a convincing relationship and likeable oddballs. It would be nice if these people were happy, which is half the battle with a rom-com.
Josh McConville plays Dean, a well-meaning but emotionally stunted man who plans things meticulously. A year after his precisely arranged anniversary weekend proves disastrous, he attempts to travel back in time with his own invention. His plan is to rescue his relationship with his now ex-girlfriend Lana (Hannah Marshall), after it transpires she’s been cheating on him with her ex, the disgraced Olympic javelin thrower Terry (Alex Dimitriades). What unfolds is a succession of failures, misunderstandings and bleak depictions of a man trying to change. It’s like several, grubbier Groundhog Days, elapsing over twelve months rather than twenty-four hours, with added time loops.
The key to The Infinite Man is that Dean is simultaneously loveable and off-putting. He’s at once detached from Lana but wants to change that, but rather than simple gestures such as flowers, chocolate and listening, he tries overly complex inventions and effortlessly makes things worse. As multiple versions of the three characters start cropping up, Dean is either up or down depending on how he’s coping with another year in the same place. He tries to put what he learned in the last twelve months into practice, but the film’s structure is clever. Things develop and revolve around the same incident in different contexts and time-streams. Each attempt by Dean to make things right just makes things worse, and he learns how low he’s sunk in his desperation to claw Lana back.
Incapable of spontaneity, or small gestures, Dean can suck the romance out of the moment by deconstructing things as he speaks. His girlfriend puts up with him, because he is endearing, but he’s also a hassle. This makes for an amusing relationship, as his lack of tact and tendency to make things worse for himself leads to some deadpan yet bizarre utterances. The only problem with Dean and Lana’s relationship is that you’re surprised she puts up with him for that long. In this respect, the film has its cake and eats it, trying to balance two different outcomes with moderate success. It might have been better sticking with one and suggesting the other.
This makes The Infinite Man sound like a very dark film, and for a rom-com it certainly is. However much sadness it contains, there are romantic gestures in there, and there is comedy. Writer/Director Hugh Sullivan has heart to go with the time-travel cleverness, but he’s also got a fine streak in deadpan weirdness, delivered perfectly by a game cast. McConville is adept at physical comedy, Dimitriades gives Terry a sympathetic depth which belies his initial impression (an obsessive man-child), and Marshall makes you believe Lana could love these wrecks of men, while also impressing in a straighter role than the other two.
To pick a fault, The Infinite Man is still ultimately about a man being an immature dickhead, and coming to terms with it. While you can’t help but wonder why Lana sticks around, it does at least address that Dean’s behaviour is wrong, and that he needs to change. Fundamentally though, as well as this (depressingly revelatory, for the genre) message, it succeeds at the basics. As well as containing a clever use of time travel, The Infinite Man is a romantic comedy that remembers to include both.
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