After Tim Lake (Domhnall Gleeson) turns 21, his father lets him in on a little family secret – the men in their family can travel through time. There are rules, of course. He can’t change history, but he can use his ability to improve his own life. When he meets Mary (Rachel McAdams), he falls in love and is able to take his time getting it just right until Mary loves him in return. But Tim soon realizes that time travel can’t always save or help the people he loves from life itself.
This was definitely an unexpected treat for me. I’ve always been a big fan of Rachel McAdams and Bill Nighy, and the premise was one that, while not overly original, was still really intriguing to me. About Time is the story of one man’s life, using time travel to improve it and learn that no matter how many times you go back to do something different, you may always end up with the same result. Written and directed by Richard Curtis, it’s no surprise that About Time features poignant performances and sharp, insightful dialogue. Rachel McAdams and Domhnall Gleeson are so charming to watch together. Their love story shapes the film, but it’s Gleeson’s scenes with Bill Nighy, who plays his father, that is the true heart and soul of About Time. Their bond remains a constant in Tim’s life, from his early years through his marriage and birth of his children. It’s something that is hard to extinguish, even when suffering from loss.
Using a gimmick like time travel is difficult to do. It feels like a trope that would make it far too easy to gloss over conflict, tie a happy ending up in a bow and send everyone on their merry way. It’s also a gimmick that has been used time and time again, sometimes to great effect, other times, not so much. It can be a convoluted trope that feels contrived and tired, but Curtis manages to avoid the potential pitfalls, creating something that is pretty straightforward and uncomplicated – the Lake men can simply find a dark place, clench their fists and visualize a memory that they wish to travel back to. They cannot go back in time beyond those memories, although they must be careful about what they change in another’s life, as it could still affect their own. It’s a simple premise, but it works, because it focuses solely on Tim’s life and how it unfolds, even if he happens to meddle once or twice in someone else’s life to right a wrong.
Gleeson may seem to be an unconventional leading man, but he holds his own against McAdams and Nighy, proving his worth as an affable, charming leading man. The supporting cast is quite perfect as well, giving a lot of depth to characters who may otherwise come across as stock sidekicks and relatives that are merely there to enhance Tim’s story. Curtis has written something original and sentimental without it coming across as straight cheese.
While About Time is labeled a romantic comedy, it’s so much more than a romance, and so much more than a comedy. It’s an insightful, sentimental look at time and how often we take it for granted. Life is so fleeting that we need to appreciate what we have, while we have it. I’m sure plenty of cynics will roll their eyes, but it seems impossible not to watch this film and walk away from it feeling unmoved.