About Time, 2013, 1 ¾ stars

Wasted Time

Chronological confusion reigns in About Time

A film can be many things to many people, but if it tries too hard to be all things to everybody, it rings untrue. Such is the fate of About Time, director/writer Richard Curtis’s latest creation, which wants to be a time-travel adventure, a romantic comedy and a tender drama but instead ends up as a sweet but contrived muddle with more holes than a doughnut shop.

Domhnall Gleeson, who was superb as Levin in Joe Wright’s Anna Karenina, plays Tim, who, on New Year’s Day of his 21st year, learns that the men in his family can travel in time. Breaking this incredible news is his endearing father, played lovingly by Bill Nighy – the British actor, not the Science Guy, although the latter could have at least offered a better explanation of the illogical time theories.

Tim is skeptical, of course, but soon learns that his dad is telling the truth. He also learns the rules of travel. For instance, he can travel only backwards, not forwards, and only to places he’s already been. There’s no way to travel back to kill Hitler, although that would have made a better movie. Tim instead devotes his travels to correcting his own past stumbles, erasing his haunting regrets and creating a perfect existence with the love of his life, Mary, played prettily but predictably by Rachel McAdams.

Curtis is best known for writing Notting Hill and Bridget Jones’s Diary, in addition to writing and directing Love Actually. But his latest film has more in common with his botched directorial effort from 2009, Pirate Radio. At more than two hours, About Time is too long, apparently wanting to be a mini-epic instead of the simple story more appropriate to the interesting premise. (Do we really need a five-minute scene of McAdams trying on dresses?) And, ironically, it devotes too little time to its most interesting characters: a crotchety playwright portrayed memorably by Tom Hollander and Tim’s sister, played wonderfully by Lydia Wilson.

Though parts of the film are shot poorly, with unnecessary handheld camera, the biggest problems are the editing – or lack thereof – and the script, which wants to be both lighthearted and serious, both a story of love and of familial struggles, with time travel an afterthought. How else can one explain the time-travel theories’ insanity? Or the fact that, once the rules are explained, the movie breaks them repeatedly by showing Tim traveling back in time and then forwards, and to places he was never originally in – with no thought to cause and effect, the space-time continuum or how “original” Tim merges with time-traveling Tim.

Tim eventually realizes that “time travel seems almost unnecessary.” Well, it’s certainly unnecessary in this film, which makes a total mockery of it. And since you will be unable to travel back in time to unwatch this flick, I suggest skipping it and opting instead for the movie that obviously inspired it, Groundhog Day, or, even better, the brilliant time-travel romance Somewhere in Time. It’ll be time well spent.

Copyright 2013 © Cameron Meier