Like it or not, British-born actor, director and screenwriter Richard Curtis has built himself a successful career by churning out his own brand of light-hearted, audience-friendly romantic comedies. The latest of which, About Time, deviates ever so slightly from the traditional structure to deliver a quirky, refreshingly touching and well acted, yet overlong and ridiculously predictable story of love and close family bonds.
The minute he turns 21, unlucky-in-love Tim (Domhall Gleeson) is told by his father that he can travel back in time to change what has – and what can happen – in his own life. So, when Tim meets the love of his life Mary (Rachel McAdams) upon moving to London to become a lawyer, he uses time-travel to ensure they fall in love. However, as Tim tries to apply the “fix it” method to other people in his life, he slowly becomes aware of the negatives impacts his ability can exact.
Curtis’ script never attempts to be anything more than it is, and it relishes in that easy-to-watch, simplistic charm it wears so brazenly on its sleeve. The characters are likeable, the romance between Tim and Mary authentic and the messages about how important it is to live in the moment and love your family unconditionally are projected well. It’s never unbearably overblown, however, and there’s plenty of subtleties scattered around to ensure it has a winsome ease and quirk to it.
The time-travel rules aren’t set out in stone, which results in a narrative becomes overly muddled as the film enters its second act (it’s never made clear exactly how big the changes have to be for the butterfly effect to take place, nor why the time-travelling itself has to be kept secret). Yet it bravely – and refreshingly – avoids the common structure most rom-com’s employ to deliver something that’s interesting enough to keep audiences entertained throughout.
It’s the performances that make About Time stand-out though. Gleeson cements himself as an able leading man in a role that, had it been written ten years ago, would’ve landed with Hugh Grant. McAdams is emanates warmth, heart and humour as Mary, while Nighy is as reliable as he always is. What’s left, then, is a romantic comedy that may not shatter the mould completely, but is different and charming and well acted enough to be considered a modest slice of handsomely shot escapism.