New Release Review - About Time

A young man uses his time-travelling ability to seduce a girl.

Directed by: Richard Curtis
Starring: Domhnall Gleeson, Rachel McAdams, Bill Nighy, Tom Hollander, Lydia Wilson, Lindsay Duncan, Margot Robbie


On his 21st birthday, Tim (Gleeson) learns from his father (Nighy) that the male members of the family have the ability to travel back in time, though only to moments of their own life. As most young men would, Tim immediately uses his new-found ability to set about seducing an attractive girl, Mary (McAdams).
'Groundhog Day', the movie to which this owes a huge debt, is held up by many script-writing tutors as an example of a perfectly plotted script. 'About Time', however, could be used to instruct students in how not to construct a screenplay.
The issues arise early, when Tim learns his time-travelling capability through a piece of expository dialogue delivered by his father. This method is returned to several times throughout the story. Whenever Tim uncovers a new time-travel problem, his father is on hand to deliver a new piece of exposition, laying down rules that the film goes on to either ignore or contradict.
It takes serious balls to write a movie involving time-travel as you immediately constrict yourself with a certain amount of rules. Curtis is ill-equipped to handle this and really should have brought on a writer to help him with plotting, as it's clearly not his strong point.
What made 'Groundhog Day' work was having the entire plot based around Bill Murray's attempts to seduce Andie McDowall. Where Curtis goes wrong with 'About Time' is in resolving this plot at the end of his film's first act, leaving us with no clue as to what the story we're meant to be following is. That first act is highly enjoyable, mainly thanks to Curtis' skill with dialogue and the charming rapport between Gleeson and McAdams. Once it's over and his two leads are romantically united, though, the film falls apart and has nowhere to go, despite having well over an hour left to run.
Curtis fills the second half of the movie with a series of vignettes but his lack of attention to his own script leaves us scratching our heads and questioning every new plot turn. At times, it seems like he's forgotten his lead character actually possesses the ability to traverse time. The time-travelling aspect is simply a gimmick here, one Curtis has no interest in exploring.
Being bored to tears by the lack of investment in character or plot for the final hour of the film allows you to notice plot inconsistencies, of which there are many. When Tim mentions struggling to afford a house for his wife and kids you immediately wonder why he doesn't just use his power to amass a fortune through gambling on sporting events, the results of which he would be uniquely privy to. At one point he's shocked to discover the sex of his child has changed, due to him travelling back to a point before the conception. His father tells him he can't reverse this yet he somehow does, with no explanation provided. Then there are strange moments that have nothing to do with time-travel, such as Mary, a reader for a publishing house, freaking out over a manuscript being destroyed as if it was 1933 and she couldn't just print off another copy.
Speaking of Mary, McAdams is wasted beyond the first act, her character relegated to a background figure whose only role seems to be popping out a series of children. The inherent creepiness of how Tim actually manages to convince Mary to become his wife and the mother of his children is never addressed, despite the potential for drama Tim's revelation would hold.
By insisting on hanging his film on a gimmick he doesn't know how to effectively handle, Curtis has created an insurmountable obstacle for both himself and his audience. Though you'll be entertained for the first hour, when you're actually invested in a story-line, ultimately you'll wish you could travel back in time and purchase a ticket for a better film.
4/10


Eric Hillis

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