By Bill Wine
KYW Newsradio 1060
PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — About Time is about time. And it’s about time.
British writer and director Richard Curtis tosses into his usual romantic stew just a dash of science fiction -– no big deal, no need for a rational explanation, just enough to stir the pot.
About Time is an affable romantic fantasy-comedy that casually accepts the existence of time travel without getting all bent out of shape or self-congratulatory about it.
Leave it to Curtis (the screenwriter responsible for Four Weddings and a Funeral, Notting Hill, Bridget Jones’s Diary, and the writer-director who brought us the beloved Love Actually) to add an idiosyncratic wrinkle to the rom-com formula.
Domhnall Gleeson stars as Tim Lake, a clumsy young lawyer-in-training with a stammer right out of the Hugh Grant playbook, who lives in Cornwall with his parents (Bill Nighy and Lindsay Duncan) and his sister (Lydia Wilson).
He yearns to have a girlfriend, but his approach to candidates needs work, if not major surgery.
But with his 21st birthday approaching, his father lets him in on a rather astonishing family secret: the men in the Lake family, once they turn 21, are capable of traveling back in time, as long as they restrict themselves to fateful moments in their own personal lives. (“You can’t kill Hitler,” Dad explains.)
But this means they can go back to, say, fateful encounters with women they desire and improve their, well, wooing technique.
Yep, do-overs! Shades of Groundhog Day.
For Tim, that means going back to re-meet potential soulmate Mary, the fetching American played by Rachel McAdams, to try to win her over and create a love-at-third-sight match.
Although it seems at first that the time-travel element will play itself out too quickly and get tiresome in a feature-length film, Curtis manages to pick just about all the low-hanging fruit that the premise makes available.
But after taking his time letting the central conceit unfold, Curtis does something interesting as this romantic comedy proceeds. Once Tim and Mary commit to each other and start a life together, Curtis turns his attention to the poignant father-son relationship at the heart of the film.
Gleeson (the son of actor Brendan Gleeson and familiar from the Harry Potter flicks as Bill Weasley), playing a self-effacing character self-effacingly, finds his rhythm and comes to win us over without overplaying or begging for approbation.
McAdams is as endearing as ever (and sets a record in this her third outing as a time-travel bystander, following The Time Traveler’s Wife and Midnight in Paris), and Nighy is his usual bundle of pleasingly eccentric charm.
Yes, there are times when director Curtis tried a little too hard to be cute. But his film is largely likable regardless, and is pleasantly if not deliriously life-affirming.
The rules set up by the premise are vague, but so what? Curtis doesn’t care and either do we.
Instead, the film just borrows the fantasy device as part of its heartfelt attempt to explore what really matters given the short amount of time we are granted, and “love, actually” isn’t a bad capsule conclusion.
Much of the fun of it is wondering just what Curtis and his cohorts will do with the central alternate-universe gimmick. Where they go won’t work for everybody, but should please anyone who’s open to it.
And while other Curtis films may have produced more guffaws, there are chuckles aplenty and considerable unforced folk wisdom about the ties that bind and time as a precious commodity.
So we’ll time-travel to 3 stars out of 4 for this warmly endearing romantic flight of fantasy. Make time for About Time, which is a good time.