This is not a film for the cynical. There is a moment in the film, it will be different for each person, where you have to decide to either check out or lose yourself in it. I suspect many may choose to check out, but they’ll have missed a wholly enjoyable romantic fantasy.
About Time is the story of Tim (Domhnall Gleeson) who is told on his 21st birthday that he, like the other men of his family, can travel in time. The rules are that it has to be within his own life so, as his father (Bill Nighy) suggests, there’s no sleeping with Helen of Troy. How does Tom use this newfound power? To seduce women, of course. The main object of his affection quickly becomes Mary (Rachel McAdams), and the film becomes the chronicle of their lives together (the more literal “time” in the title).
If all this sounds kind of hokey—well, it is. Director Richard Curtis (Love Actually) certainly doesn’t shy away from the schmaltz. The entire film is shot in a sort of ethereal glow that leaves the audience feeling halfway between a Hallmark greeting card and the fields of Elysium. What Curtis does wisely here, that he also managed in Love Actually, is to never blink. If you’re going to head down the fantastical, sentimental trail of tears and enlightenment within a film then you must fully commit. Curtis and his cast does, and for that reason it works.
I watched this film twice before writing this review. The first time, it caught me in its sentimental traps and I cried like I suspect most viewing it will. The second time, however, I began to appreciate it so much more. Some will criticize the lack of character development in the early moments that seems to be so important later in the film. I found this reflective of Tom’s hierarchy of importance in his own mind. His is the only narrative we feel we can trust (since he’s doing most of the time travel), and therefore we are stuck with what he deems important—at least at that time. Confusing? There’s a great moment between Tom and his father at a wedding. Tom pleads with him not to change the past, but father insists that he needs to make one change. What at first seems throwaway becomes really great when we later learn what exactly it was he changed. These kinds of moments mount throughout About Time until you either succumb to its charms, or bitterly abstain entirely.
About Time isn’t an awards type picture, but it doesn’t try to be. McAdams, Nighy, and Gleeson, especially, shine throughout. They’re accompanied by one of the best soundtracks of the year. Did About Time make me fall in love with it? Yes, and against my better judgment. Then again, doesn’t love make fools of us all?