Richard Curtis’ most recent film is being billed as a return to his old romcom roots. I have never quite been sure what The Boat That Rocked did so wrong to be ousted from the back-catalogue but that’s another story. Hugh Grant has finally been knocked out of the charming-yet-awkward lead role to make way for Domhnall Gleeson. This time our male lead is not only charming and awkward but also ginger, just for the indie-cred.
The basic premise of the film is that the men in Tim’s (Gleeson) family can travel back in time. There are rules but since most, if not all, of them are blithely ignored and changed throughout the film it’s not really worth the time to figure out. This opens the way for some hackneyed time-traveller tropes as Tim puts his time, energy, wealth and supernatural abilities to work desperately trying to find a girlfriend. As a result of this permanent time-switching the basic plot and action do take more concentration than the average romcom if only because there do seem to be some significant plot holes, but a quick watch of Groundhog Day should bring you up to speed.
I object to the classification of About Time as a romcom. The central love story involving Tim and Mary (Rachel McAdams) is spectacularly boring. You’d think that with eternity to get it right a time-traveller could marry the most amazing girl in the universe. However Tim seems content to chase the most abysmally dull and square girl-next-door that has ever been written. All in all it’s a terrible pity, McAdams gives an astoundingly good performance as this naïve, mousey young woman but I can’t be alone in finding that watching two incredibly ordinary people have a terribly straightforward relationship is not at all intereting. What is interesting, in fact, the character that even the other characters admit is more interesting is Kit-Kat (Lydia Wilson). While everyone else is bumbling about and rotting away in suburbia Kit-Kat is following her passions and chasing the man of her dreams. Why is the film not about her you ask? Well because she is far too quirky, and fun to be the main character. She’s written as a mildly amusing sidekick for our more “sensible” and “mature” characters to lead into the sun by giving her her very own awkward, “adorable” ginger to marry. None of these passionate decisions and reckless, destructive things called emotions for us! It’s simply not appropriate or British enough.
However to About Time’s credit there is one flawless performance and story hidden amongst the dubious life messages. Bill Nighy steals the film as Tim’s caring, but eccentric father. Nighy shows far more versatility than is normally required of his roles and as such gives a sensitive but not over-done performance that really delivers the emotional thrust of the film. The thoughts on fatherhood and family life expressed here are far more poignant and less hackneyed than everything else in the film put together. All in all, probably worth the price of a cinema ticket.