Thanks to computer graphics, movies no longer have any limits when it comes to what they can create with special effects. However, I have a bit of a soft spot when it comes to movies with sci-fi or magical aspects that use little or no special effects at all, since who the characters are and how they react to and use these fantastical details should be more interesting than what they look like. Maybe that's why I had some more-than-warranted optimism for About Time, a film about a young man named Tim (Domhnall Gleeson) decides to find a girlfriend (Rachel McAdams) using a hereditary ability to travel back to any point in his life he can remember.
However, About Time is a romantic comedy -- a genre I feel is fading in quality and relevance as repetition, the modern realities of relationships, and the myth of couples living "happily ever after" have exposed the shallowness of the genre's clichés. Is a bit of time traveling magic the thing to help About Time rise above its increasingly cloying ilk? Watch my ReThink Review of About Time below (transcript following).
If you're a straight male moviegoer, you have reason to fear Richard Curtis. Not only did he write Four Weddings and a Funeral, which launched stammering pretty boy Hugh Grant into a galaxy of smarmy romantic comedies, but he also wrote the screenplays for other offenses to movie date night like Notting Hill, Bridget Jones' Diary and its sequel, and Love Actually, which arguably started the trend of saccharine multi-star romcom shitstorms like Valentine's Day and New Year's Eve. His latest romantic comedy, which he also directed, is called About Time, where a young man uses his ability to travel back in time to land his perfect girl while learning about the pains and pleasures of life's onward march. But another way this movie made me contemplate the vagaries of time is because it made two hours FEEL LIKE A FUCKING ETERNITY.
Domhnall Gleeson, who vocally seems to be doing a Hugh Grant impression, plays Tim, a perennial loser in love who learns on his 21st birthday from his dad James (played by Bill Nighy) that the men in their family are able to travel back in time to any moment in their lives they can remember by simply going to a dark space, closing their eyes, and clenching their fists. Tim vows to use his power to get a girlfriend, mostly by traveling back in time to avoid mistakes, be more suave, and use knowledge from the future to make himself seem like a more impressive, compatible suitor.
The main focus of Tim's efforts is Mary, played by Rachel McAdams in yet another of her long line of aggressively, relentlessly adorable characters that are so syrupy, unrealistically sweet that they seem like an experiment to give moviegoers diabetes. But Tim soon learns that if he's not careful, he could change his life in unforeseen ways, including a life where he and Mary never meet or the makeup of their eventual family together is drastically altered, while also learning that some bad outcomes can't be avoided.
Now there's already been a movie about a guy who can go back in time to do things perfectly, and it's called Groundhog Day, and a reason why it's a classic is that not only does Bill Murray's character eventually learn to use his ability for self improvement and the greater good, but that's only after indulging himself, as I'm sure all of us would, by using his prior knowledge to do a number of fun, questionable, or downright lousy things. However, Tim never does that, not even using his power to play the stock market or bet on sports to make his and his family's life a little easier, making this perhaps the most boring movie About Time travel I've ever seen.
I'm willing to forgive the fact that a lot of the mechanics of how time travel works in the film don't make sense. But like I said, About Time is two hours long, which is long for a movie like this, and so much of it is just some scenario going badly, Tim stammering "Excuse me a minute," running to a closet, and reliving the moment better, which gets really tedious, as McAdams keeps pushing your cuteness gag reflex. By the time the movie gets to some more interesting themes about letting go and appreciating every moment, it was too late, where the only time travel I cared about was getting to a future where the movie was over.
As a final insult, About Time ends with what I consider a very British resignation (or maybe it's defeatism) that you should not only accept but embrace your station in life, regardless of its shortcomings. But in the case of About Time, it's even worse since Tim has practically endless potential to change and improve life not just for he and his family, but potentially for the world. What kind of shitty ass message is that? Though About Time did fill me with a feeling of resignation and defeat that I had wasted two hours of my life on such cloying junk, and a wish that I could travel back in time to avoid it, as you should in your future.