Logic and romance clash in Time
As written and directed by the man who gave us Love Actually, it comes as no surprise that Richard Curtis’ new film, About Time, is long on charm and romance. Actually has seen a cult following grow around it in the 10 years since its release and it’s easy to see why. In a time of violence and cynicism, viewers have embraced its theme of hope and love in the face of adversity as if it were a life preserver in an ocean of despair. It’s delightful, earnest and satisfying entertainment and Curtis does his level best to recreate Actually’s magic in Time. Though it does seem a bit forced at times, the filmmaker succeeds in capturing a bit of the romantic whimsy he’s become known for. However, the premise upon which the story is based is a bit flimsy, and if too much attention is spent analyzing it, the whole movie collapses.
On his 21st birthday, Tim (Domhnall Gleeson) is told by his father (Bill Nighy) that the men in their family have the ability to travel through time. All they have to do is go to a dark place, clinch their hands into fists, think about where they’d like to go into the past and voila – they’re there. Thus, Tim has been given the gift of having a life of do overs. If a first date goes awry, he can go back and give it another shot; if you want some extra time to read, as his father does, you can; if you want to prevent your troubled sister (Lydia Wilson) from meeting her abusive boyfriend, no problem.
All of these things occur at one point or another in the movie, but much of Tim’s time-tripping revolves around the love of his life, Mary. As played by Rachel McAdams, at her most luminous, who can blame him? On paper, you wouldn’t think to cast the actress opposite the gawky Gleeson (can’t she can do better than this dweeb?!?) but the pairing works. While the actor may not be of the hunky variety, Curtis wisely presents Tim as a morally sound man, putting him in a couple of situations in which he could use his gift to his advantage but doesn’t. That he passes up the opportunity to sleep with his gorgeous ex-girlfriend, knowing his time-traveling abilities insure that it remains unknown, will win over more than a few female viewers. The lead’s eyes literally sparkle whenever he and Mary are together, convincing us they’re smitten with each other. Their chemistry helps the film navigate over its numerous plot holes as do the scenes between Gleeson and Nighy, whose father-and-son bond is perhaps the best thing in the film.
However, any logic employed to the movie’s time travel device reveal it for the faulty piece of writing it is. Any story of this sort invites scrutiny, and though I wanted to give myself over completely to its romantic notions, I couldn’t help but be nagged by the many unanswered questions concerning Tim’s gift. For example, if he and his father can both travel through time, won’t their actions affect or negate what the other does? At one point, they acknowledge each other during one of Tim’s journeys, thus raising a myriad of questions. And what about his dotty Uncle Desmond (Richard Cordery), a good-hearted but not-all-there sort based on Dickens’ Mr. Dick from David Copperfield? If all the males in the family have this ability, what sort of havoc might he create? Should I care?
Time is entertainment that you’re not supposed to think about as much as feel. Its ultimate lesson – that even though you might be able to travel through time you should simply enjoy every day as it comes – is a bit naïve, as well as condescending. It’s easy to subscribe to this when you’re living an upper middle-class lifestyle as its characters do. However, it’s to Curtis’ credit that I nearly bought into this fantasy, wanting to believe that its romantic notions were, if not practical, possible.
Contact Chuck Koplinski at firstname.lastname@example.org.