The Watchers

The Watchers

Saturday, 28 September 2013

Review: About Time (UK cert 12A)

What would you do if you could time travel? Win the lottery? Sleep with some ridiculously good looking person from the history books? In Richard Curtis’s latest, About Time, he focuses on the smaller, but no less important things: re-living a favourite day all over again, or telling someone you love them when you should have said it first time round.

Richard Curtis is a writer and filmmaker who has had a lot of stick thrown his way over the years. “His work is sickly sweet, lovey-dovey, and a pop song gets played every five minutes!” Personally, while I don’t worship at the altar of Working Title films, even his downright average work has the odd well-timed laugh and funny-because-it’s-true observation.

About Time is one of Curtis’s best films, maybe even his best, and another lesson for Hollywood on how comedies today should be done.

One of the many reasons the film works so well is down to its cast. In the two series of Charlie Brooker’s Black Mirror, the stand-out episode for me is Be Right Back, primarily because of Domhnall Gleeson’s childlike and chilling performance. In About Time, Gleeson is given so much to do, and he does everything absolutely right; he makes comic expressions and the delivery of Curtis’s Stephen Hawking-smart script look barely-lift-a-finger easy.

Rachel McAdams is the Andie MacDowell/Julia Roberts role, but she has so much more to do than previous Curtis female leads. She’s quirky, but believable; sweet, but not annoying. Like Gleeson, she also has her fair share of one-liners and moments of embarrassing physical comedy, which she handles with ease. McAdams is an underrated actress, having sleepwalked through far too many average rom-coms and weepies in her career. In About Time she proves that, when given a script that allows her to do something other than smile and look pretty, she deserves to be near the top of the list for leading actresses.

Special mention has to go to Bill Nighy. There are films where you can’t imagine anyone else playing a certain role, and in About Time, the film would definitely not have worked if someone other than Nighy played Gleeson’s father. Here, Nighy is given free reign; he is quietly eccentric, delivering his occasionally barking dialogue in an understated way, with a glint in his eye that Nighy does so well.  Here he is everyone’s favourite memory of a father, grandfather or uncle. Nighy and Gleeson provide the majority of the film’s funniest and upsetting moments. The scene where Nighy explains to Gleeson that he can time travel is a faultless mix of uncomfortable silence and odd looks. Later, when Gleeson realises, due to time travel jiggery pokery, that he can no longer see his father is, honest to God, heart-breaking.

One final mention acting-wise has to go to Rev’s Tom Hollander as Gleeson’s miserable as sin uncle with an acid tongued answer to everything. He may not appear in the film much, but there are plenty of belly laughs when he does.

All the finest acting in the world isn’t much use if the script doesn’t even make decent toilet paper. The problem I have with Love, Actually is that Curtis turned the sweetness and lovey-dovey shtick all the way up to eleven. It was the film equivalent of a Starbucks Frappuccino; so sugary sweet it will rot your teeth. All the dialogue and touching moments drowned in the sickliness of it all.

About Time’s sickly-sweet scenes are few and far between. The film isn’t about action packed time travel adventures in a police phone box or a DeLorean, and it avoids the big questions around time travel, but what it does is highlight the more human things we would do if we were able to travel back in time: spend more time with our children, get to know our loved ones better, and have the most amazing sex possible.

Richard Curtis can’t completely avoid the sunshine candyfloss sweetness. A scene involving Gleeson and McAdams running around the Underground, all touchy feely and big wide smiles, could have been cut. Also, where the couple’s wedding reception in a marquee gets ruined due to the rubbish British weather, but they’re not bothered as they stare into each other’s eyes, felt more like an advert for some chocolates.

This is a minor niggle. About Time is another British comedy great. Expect to be thinking a lot during its two hours; not how you would change the world or use and abuse your time travelling powers, but how would you use your gift on the people that really matter to you. Make sure you bring a hanky or some tissues along, not only will you be laughing, but you’ll be pretending your hay fever’s playing up again.

4 out of 5 stars


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