Those looking for romantic chicken soup for the soul — created by blending some easy loving with British comedy and liberally peppering the concoction with quirky characters — know that Richard Curtis is the go-to guy.
It’s been his tried-and-tested recipe in such films as Four Weddings and a Funeral, Notting Hill and Love Actually, and audiences have enjoyed the sweet schmaltz. About Time isn’t as well-made; it’s a bit lumpy in parts and too runny in others.
Yet, many ingredients are palatable — mostly, the affable cast that brings to life, the Curtis archetypes. Chief among these is the Geeky Hero, made famous by Hugh Grant. About Time’s version of the lovable nerd is Tim, played by Domhnall Gleeson, and the Irish actor is an offbeat, likeable presence.
Tim lives with his wacky family in a seaside cottage in Cornwall. He doesn't have much luck with the girls, but things change on his 21st birthday when dad (Bill Nighy) informs him of a special genetic trait — all the men in his family can time travel.
The “how” is rather simple — a dark room, closed eyes and clenched fists gets the time traveller to whatever point in time he has picked.
So what would Tim like to do with his newfound gifts? Become a millionaire? Rule a country? Invent the Next Big Thing? Wait, remember this is a Richard Curtis film. No, all that Tim wants is a girlfriend, and — a gentle nod to Groundhog Day — he discovers that time travel is a great party trick to iron out awkward utterances and get a girl’s attention.
He meets the girl of his dreams, Mary (Rachel McAdams) by chance at a dining experience in a pitch-black restaurant. She’s another Curtis standard: the beautiful American living in London with some odd traits; in Mary’s case, it’s a bizarre fascination with — no kidding — Kate Moss.
Soon after, however, while trying to fix a playwright friend’s (Tom Hollander) problems, Tim is forced to time travel back to another venue on the very night he met Mary. Good opportunity for the film to hit its “search” button, as Tim tries to track down and woo anew the lovely Mary; to her, he is now a stranger since that original meeting has never taken place.
Dramatic tension oozes out of the film after this point. Tim and Mary are obviously made for each other — and the actors have good onscreen chemistry — so there’s very little left to predict.
The film does lay down some Time-related ground rules — no travelling into the future, no messing with dates that affect births and deaths. But largely, Curtis doesn't bother dealing with the headache-inducing paradoxes of time travel, because that isn’t, really, what the film is about.
Curtis’s film is about learning to cherish the relationships that matter. Not a bad reminder, overall, considering the selfish times in which we live — but the point could have been driven home with more humour and less saccharine, more taut storylines and less saggy scripting.
Genre: Romantic Comedy
Director: Richard Curtis
Cast: Domhnall Gleeson, Rachel McAdams, Bill Nighy, Tom Hollander
Storyline: Tim uses his time travel abilities to get the girl of his dreams.
Bottomline: Meandering — but sweet — story about the value of relationships.