Writer and sometimes-director Richard Curtis has brought us such great British romantic comedy classics as Four Weddings and a Funeral (1994), Notting Hill (1999) and Love Actually (2003). He now presents About Time, which he has said will be his last turn directing, although he will continue to write. This comes as a sad blow to many of us considering what an achievement About Time is – a genuinely sweet, funny and even moving British romantic comedy – 100 points if you can name any decent British romcom in the last 10 years (I Give It A Year definitely doesn’t count).
The lack of a good romcom this side of the Atlantic could be down to standard set by Hugh Grant and Colin Firth for the true English gentlemen. Here, Curtis replaces the Hugh Grant-type with Domhnall Gleeson, who most people will know as Bill Weasley from the Harry Potter films. Gleeson works because he’s slightly awkward, excessively polite and, dare I say it, pretty unattractive – a perfect underdog.
Gleeson plays Tim, our unlucky-in-love hero. When he reaches 21, his dad (played by Bill Nighy – another Curtis favourite) tells him the family secret: all the men in the family can travel through time. Tim uses his power in a Groundhog Day fashion – trying to get things right with the women he meets the second (or third) time around. Soon enough Tim meets Mary (Rachel McAdams) and they hit it off in Dans Le Noir, London’s pitch dark restaurant experience. But when things start to go wrong in his life, he learns the ‘rewind’ technique presents more problems than cures.
For starters, don’t be fooled in thinking this film will offer any logical time travel theories – this is more The Time Traveler’s Wife than The Butterfly Effect. Instead it’s the charming script and loveable characters that make you suspend belief. Bright sparks are Tom Hollander as the playwright/family friend Tim stays with in London, and Richard Cordery, who plays Tim’s eccentric uncle.
Some will argue, rightly, that About Time is a lot of mushy nonsense, and that it forces that warm fuzzy feeling on you and makes you cry by showing you lots of old couples holding hands and people kissing babies. And indeed it is, but it also presents a kind of moral righteuousness that is hard to hate and a carpe diem attitude to life that is pleasantly restorative.
It’s not as good as Notting Hill, but it’s a pleasing substitute.