Dir: Richard Curtis
Richard Curtis’ most recent cinematic offering comes in the form of About Time, a film about time travel. Tim Lake (Domhnall Gleeson), our quintessentially British lead, is informed on his 21st birthday that he has been bestowed the gift of time travel, a power he frequently puts to use to replay many of the scenarios in his life where his Curtisesque awkwardness has prevented him from excelling with the opposite sex. As the film unfolds the viewer is gradually introduced to the object of his affections, Mary (Rachel McAdams) and it is their relationship that serves as the narrative crux of the film. About Time contains many of the traits of a Richard Curtis film that have made him a staple of British cinema throughout the last two decades. However, the film lacks the sharpness of his previous endeavours in the romantic genre.
As a filmmaker, Curtis’ directorial style has never been particularly innovative and the key to his success lies in both the standard of his central performances and his skill as a screenwriter. In About Time, however, the dialogue is not only overly sentimental, a trait we expect from his films, but unconvincing. It is true that Curtis is credited with perhaps the most catastrophically awful line in cinematic history: “Is it still raining? I hadn’t noticed” during the climactic scene of Four Weddings and a Funeral, but the strength of his dialogue has been responsible for the enduring affection people have for his films. The travesty of Andie MacDowell’s iconic line is actually surpassed in this film, when Tim’s sister, Kit-Kat (Lydia Wilson), a character who is even more irritating than her name would suggest, declares in a moment of amazement “Oh my arsing God in a box.”
Tim Lake’s characterisation has been a source of much criticism since its release, it essentially serves as an amalgamation of every role Hugh Grant has ever played and could easily be dismissed as a poor imitation. Gleeson’s performance is one of the strengths of the film, however, capturing the bumbling Britishness distinctive in a Curtis picture with charm and apparent ease. The familiarity of all the characters presented on screen, for the first hour at least, makes the film border on appearing as a poorly executed parody of some of Curtis’ earlier classics. The last 40 minutes of the film arguably salvages the intrinsic flaws of the first two thirds.
The final half-hour feels like a totally different film, abandoning the exhausted romantic framework and placing greater focus on the family dynamic between Tim and his father. The beauty and genuine profundity displayed in the dwindling relationship between father and son as Tim embarks on making a family of his own allows the film to transcend the expectations of its genre. It acts as a moving reminder of the limited time we have in our lives to spend with those we love, and how even with the assistance of time travel it is impossible to hold onto them forever.
Curtis’ film is undeniably flawed, but it demonstrates a desire to impress upon his viewers some of his final words of wisdom – and one can’t help but be charmed.