Written by ECBC contributor Max, an accomplished journalist, who has written about the entertainment sector for several years.
There are those films that we will always cherish, no matter what.
We return to them, grinning fondly at their inviting DVD covers, as we would when greeting an old friend. We revisit their endearing, quirky scenes, and appreciate their ability to enhance an already happy day. Or, we reconnect with them – for solace – when life doesn’t seem to be letting up. Everyone has times like those, and many of us have a select number of films to help illuminate those dark days.
If you’re reading this – and know anything about me and my tastes – you’d have assumed that my choice of go-to movie would be something rather adventurous. Action packed and dynamic, and possibly featuring a couple of caped crusaders, or laser swords, or a dragon or three. Not so. In fact, the film that I most like to watch when times are tough is considerably small in scale. It’s Richard Curtis’s About Time.
I can already sense that some brows will be furrowing in judgement, because Curtis is something of a Marmite filmmaker. His oeuvre (which includes Love, Actually and Four Weddings and a Funeral) is denoted by sentimentality, and that very polite, very middle-class, brand of bumbling Britishness. So, if Notting Hill is not your thing, then About Time isn’t likely to convert you, since it shares many of these aforementioned traits with Curtis’s extensive catalogue. Nevertheless, I’d still heartily recommend it to anyone, since there are plenty of positives to be found in this silver-screen story.
About Time tells the tale of Tim (Domhnall Gleeson), a twenty-one year old man who discovers that he’s inherited the ability to travel back in time from his father. That description might put you in mind of sci-fi thrills and daring rushes to prevent butterfly effects and paradoxes – hardly the soothing kind of cinematic escape. However, About Time is a refreshingly relatable take on these fantastical conventions.
Firstly, changing history on a massive scale is a no-go, because Tim and his pa can’t travel to places and times that they’ve never lived in. Secondly, Tim’s dad James (Bill Nighy) quickly dissuades his son – and by extension, us – of using these gifts for the typical kind of grander schemes. Wealth? Well, a previous family member has already tried it, and reaped highly unsatisfactory results. Instead, the focus is on using these powers to simply enhance everyday life. For example, Tim soon resolves to use his temporal tinkering to enhance his love life. And it transpires that James has mainly used his gift to read more books, bypass awkward interactions and improve his skills at table tennis. I’m rarely truly jealous of fictional characters, but in the case of James (sans the ping pong) I’ll make an exception. Especially since he looks and sounds an awful lot like Bill Nighy, whose warmth and wry delivery is effortlessly – and enviably – cool.
Certainly, About Time’s cast is pretty darn brilliant. Gleeson does a fantastic job in the lead role, lending the film a dorky, endearing presence – along with a particularly plummy accent. His chemistry with Mary (Rachel McAdams, whose filmography seems to gain more time-travelling boyfriends by the minute) is truly charming. Alas, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the slightly problematic elements of Tim and Mary’s courtship, namely the deception and manipulation involved. Yet it a testament to the skills of Gleeson and McAdams that it’s delightful to watch them interact onscreen nevertheless. Plus, About Time also stars a pre-famous Margot Robbie (I, Tonya) and Vanessa Kirby (The Crown’s Princess Margaret) who similarly get to show off their great comic timing.
Because, yes, About Time is very funny. Tim’s ability to “redo” cringe-worthy conversations is the source of much hilarity in the film, especially when it comes to some toe-curlingly awkward conversations. Additionally, there’s one notable sequence involving a play’s opening night that never fails to set me chuckling. Yet that isn’t to say that About Time is all fun and frivolity. If certain scenes later in the movie don’t elicit even the tiniest tear or lip wobble, then you’re made of sterner stuff than I am. If you’ve seen the film already, you know what I’m referring to. In fact, I’m getting emotional just thinking about it.
Which brings us to the heart of About Time’s messages. Throughout the film, Tim and his dad dabble with different ways to use their powers. Yet there are limits to what even they – as blessed as they are – can do with their gifts. Some things cannot be changed, and some decisions aren’t all that easy. But Curtis brings us back to that promise that, despite these calamities and restrictions, eventually, things can get better.
About Time is not just about finding a girlfriend, or the perfect love life; it’s not about fathers and sons. It’s about family, affection, and finding joy in the little things. At one point in the film, a character muses:
“I try […] to enjoy it, as if it was the full, final day of my extraordinary, ordinary life.”
This is obviously is some variation on the whole ‘live each day as if it was your last’ motto which circulates every now and again. Of course, we all know that it isn’t possible to strictly adhere to this message. If that was the case, no ironing would ever get done – especially in my house. But its inclusion in About Time keys into the film’s bigger, optimistic themes: we need to at least try and relish what we have –little or large – whenever possible. And that, when it isn’t so easy, it’s OK to take one day, one step at a time until we get there.
With John Guleserian’s brilliant cinematography – and a fantastic soundtrack – About Time is a sumptuous and surprisingly profound fantasy rom-com. It’s bold, yet conversely, very British. It’s sometimes sugary and not exactly subtle, but was sincerity and earnestness ever meant to be restrained? And heck, at some point in our lives, we all need to remind ourselves that there’s purity and idealism to be found in everyday life, no matter how obsolete or contradictory those qualities may seem.
If you enjoyed reading this review you’ll be happy to know we’ll be posting monthly reviews each with it’s own monthly theme. ECBC is all about promoting ways to help live with a mental illness – watching films is definitely one of them.