On his 21st birthday, foppish up-and-coming lawyer Tim Lake (Gleeson) is told by his dad (Nighy) that he has the ability to travel back in time to events he’s already experienced. Moving to London, Tim decides to use this ability to get a girlfriend, focusing his efforts on a lovely girl named Mary (McAdams)…
While the time-travel premise might suggest otherwise, About Time is very much a Richard Curtis film. A sweary, heartfelt British rom-com, it’s essentially Notting Hill with a Groundhog Day-flavoured twist, populated by the sort of supporting character archetypes we’ve come to expect from the King Of Saccharine. There’s the socially awkward sidekick, the doddery old bugger who forgets people’s names, the alternatively-styled sister figure (who’s actually the sister here), and so on. Gleeson might not be Hugh Grant, but as a perpetually polite, self-deprecating Englishman who attempts to woo an American girl with his bumbling brand of agreeable honesty, he’s also a typical Curtis leading man.
Bearing all this in mind, it stands to reason that your enjoyment of About Time will depend largely on your liking / tolerance for Curtis’ work. On the positive side, it’s sweet and elevated by a few endearing performances (particularly Bill Nighy as Tim’s Dad, who also has the same time travelling gift), while there are a few genuinely funny moments that play well (such as a nice visual gag involving Tom Hollander and a small teddy bear). But aside from one late plot dilemma which relates to Nighy, the story carries very little in terms of dramatic weight, while there’s enough emotional manipulation and sugary sentiment to risk inducing a diabetic coma.
The time-travel premise, meanwhile, is essentially just a clothesline upon which to hang a new fumbling-Brit-meets-beautiful-yank romance. As mentioned earlier, the setup may invite broad comparisons with Harold Ramis’ genre classic Groundhog Day, but this isn’t necessarily a good thing. Charming, though it is, to see Tim go back and correct various dating mistakes while attempting to win over Rachael McAdams’ love interest, we’ve already seen Bill Murray and co. exploit a similar situation to far better effect – wait for it – time and time again.
Admittedly, the script occasionally threatens to take the concept in interesting directions. For example, there’s a moment where it looks as though Gleeson is about to cheat on McAdams (who really must stop dating time-travellers), which could have then lead on to a genuinely thought-provoking moral dilemma (IE, is it really cheating if you can go back and erase the act?). But despite the intriguing, Tardis-like twist, About Time consistently retreats to quintessential Richard Curtis territory, and is therefore subject to all his usual hallmarks and crutches. Make of that what you will.
While the time-travel premise might suggest otherwise, About Time is very much a Richard Curtis film. Essentially Notting Hill with a Groundhog Day-flavoured twist, your enjoyment will depend on your liking / tolerance for Curtis’ work.