Movie Review: About Time

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A young man finds out that he has the ability to travel through time, which he uses to get the girl of his dreams to fall in love with him.

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Richard Curtis, 2013

When Tim (Domhnall Gleason) turns 21, his father (Bill Nighy) informs him that the men of their family are able to travel through time. After being warned not to use this power for money (which the family seem to have plenty of anyway), Tim decides to use the power to try to get a girlfriend. After striking out with a teen crush, he meets Mary (Rachel McAdams) in a restaurant with no lights. Following their awkwardly flirty meet cute, Tim goes back in time to fix a problem with his housemate’s play, causing him to never have met Mary (obviously). He finds her later at a Kate Moss exhibition after remembering that she loves Kate Moss, but by this point she has a boyfriend, so he goes back to before she met the boyfriend and gets her to go out with him. He proceeds to go back and fix any awkward or uncomfortable moments in their relationship so that everything is perfect and happy, but one day tragedy strikes and alters how he sees the world and his ability.

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Poor Rachel McAdams gets lumped with the role of another one of Richard Curtis’s passive American dream girls in Mary, who, like Andie McDowell in Four Weddings and a Funeral and (to a lesser extent) Julia Roberts in Notting Hill, is merely a shiny object reflecting Tim’s own wishes and expectations back to him. Domhnall Gleason is attractive, affable, selfish and ignorantly cruel as Tim, whose manipulation of Mary in the film’s first hour becomes intolerable. When she expresses the slightest hint that perhaps their first sexual encounter may have been less than perfect, he goes back to get it right…and then goes back again just to have more sex, and again, while Mary has no idea that anything has changed. McAdams deserves more than that. There’s also an alarming insistence on talking about prostitutes – Curtis seems to think that mentioning prostitutes will automatically elevate a scene to actually being funny instead of just emotionally manipulative. The female characters are appallingly written – Tim’s sister Kit Kat gets the manic pixie role, who is ruined by a boy and sinks into depression; his mother is described in incredibly unflattering terms in spite of being perfectly lovely as far as I can tell, and Mary’s best friend is described as the aforementioned “practically a prostitute” by Mary, Tim, and herself. Finally, there’s Tim’s teenage crush, who’s supposedly so beautiful that men actually lose their ability to function around her and who Tim says he’d love “even if she didn’t have a nice face” which we have no reason to believe given the way she’s been shot in the movie and her lack of lines.

The abrupt shift in tone, while allowing Curtis to avoid the question of morality in the men’s use of time travel to manipulate women into being pawns in their perfect lives, is almost a welcome relief from the unpleasantness. Bill Nighy is wonderful, and the tender exploration of the father/son relationship is wonderful and heartwarming and would make a perfectly good movie without the awful romcom stuff at the start. The final message of the movie, about living each moment we’re given, would be nice if it weren’t for the fact that it completely misses the moral mess made at the start. The musical choices are on-the-nose and occasionally jarring, but the movie does look pretty and the performances are all fine. It’s clear that Richard Curtis knows how to put together a movie like this, but watching this male wish fulfillment in order to live happy lives in which women are the happy, docile creatures they want them to be is a pretty depressing way to spend an evening.

About Time on IMDb

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