About Time has one of the most intriguing opening scenes of the year. A young man named Tim (played by Domhnall Gleeson) is single, looking for love and has just turned 21. His Dad (Bill Nihy) summons him to his office and sits him down for a serious father-son chat. But instead of offering advice on life, girls or a career, Dad reveals that all the men in the family can time travel.
He explains that this is possible simply by going into a dark corner, clutching your fists and thinking of what point in your own life you’d like to visit. Tim is understandably skeptical but tries it anyway. After returning from his New Year’s Eve party the second time, his father warns him that travelling through time has its own set of rules. Tim initially takes advantage of cheating the space-time continuum, but becomes selective with his time travels once he finds that re-doing certain days and times can erase not only bad memories but the good ones as well.
This is the second film directed by Richard Curtis, who also wrote and directed Love Actually and authored Four Weddings and a Funeral and the terrific Notting Hill. His latest comedy bears a high concept, but it’s really more about cherishing the moments life offers, all of them, and less about its sci-fi gimmick. There are a few novel surprises and even a couple of jolts in the way time traveling can backfire on newcomers, but the story plays it safe with the wild premise.
It begins strongly and maintains a clever handle on its story, even as it steals shamelessly from Groundhog Day. As in Curtis’ previous films, this is a light but charming romantic fantasy with a real affection for its characters. Casting an unknown in the lead was a smart choice: Gleeson is the son of esteemed character actor Brendan Gleeson and ably carries the film. In addition to his ace comic timing, his unfamiliar face allows you to lose yourself to the character. He has the confidence and vulnerability of a young Hugh Grant.
Playing the object of his affection is Rachel McAdams, who remains dazzling, even when playing a role that becomes thankless as the story progresses. Her character is self-described as “insecure,” which she makes soulful and endearing but her role is more of a love interest than a vital part of the narrative. In fact, coming off of her powerful supporting turn in Terrence Malick’s To the Wonder and her gleefully fiendish villainy in Brian De Palma’s Passion, this is the least interesting role she’s had in a while. McAdams previously starred in The Time Traveler’s Wife, an admittedly creepy but far more dynamic sci-fi love story.
Everyone in the supporting cast shines and adds color to their amusingly drawn characters. My favorite in the secondary roles is the reliably hilarious Tom Hollander, a riot as a pessimistic cretin of a playwright. Yet, the film’s greatest asset is Nihy, terrific as always, adding warmth and dimension to one of the year’s most endearing father figures at the movies. The development of his character is the richest in the screenplay and the scenes he shares with Gleeson are deeply touching.
Earlier in the year, I singled out (most would say unwisely) A Good Day to Die Hard as an ideal Father’s Day movie. This is a better candidate, a solid comedy to watch with your dad.
What was true of Love Actually applies here: Curtis’ film is too long and overly tidy but gives off such a warmth and steady stream of laughs that most will find it irresistible.
★ ★ ★
Rated R / 123 Min.