ABOUT TIME: in cinemas now

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Directed by:
Written by:
Starring: , , ,

IN CINEMAS NOW

RUNNING TIME: 123 min

REVIEWD BY: Dr Lenera, Official HCF Critic

 

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The night after another unsatisfactory New Year party, Tim Lake’s father tells his son that the men in his family have always had the ability to travel through time. Tim can’t change history, but he can change what has happened in his own life. Tim immediately sets out to get himself a girlfriend but that turns out not to be as easy as you might think, with his attempts to woo a friend who is staying with his family, failing miserably. Moving from the Cornwall coast to London to train as a lawyer, Tim finally meets Mary. They are immediately attracted to each other, but when he tries to help his housemate an unfortunate time-travel incident means he’s never met her at all. However, all Tom needs to do is travel back in time a little bit and rectify the situation…..

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About Time will probably please fans of writer and director Richard Curtis greatly, as it has most of his tried and tested elements in spades, right from yet again taking place in a twee, cosy,  middle-class version of England that seems divorced from the outside world and makes Curtis seem like some kind of tourist rep for gullible Americans. There’s the awkward, slightly bumbling [yet who can still get laid on a first date] English hero who here may not be Hugh Grant but sounds and acts just like him [which is a huge problem when he narrates much of the thing] and woos an American girl. He has an eccentric family or group of friends. There’s the [supposedly] funny housemate and the damaged close friend [here a sister]. Then there’s a montage when the seasons quickly pass by, lots of scenes where people say embarrassing things, constant pop songs, even a wedding and a funeral, and…..well, you get the idea. Fans will have fun ticking all this stuff off, but if you’re not a fan you may just as much get tired of seeing the same stuff yet again and even end up feeling rather ill.

I’ve always been of the opinion that his writing is very limited [even Blackadder is nowhere near as funny when revisited twenty years later], and that Love Actually, which was three quarters of a really good film, was some kind of aberration. About Time has a few good scenes and ideas, but is overall a really lazy exercise that showcases the worst aspects of Curtis in spades. It never becomes as excruciating as, say, Bridget Jones’s Diary [which he co-wrote], or as dull as Notting Hill, but it’s a seriously flawed endeavour nonetheless. Take for example the comedy. In About Time, the so-called humour almost entirely consists of somebody swearing or saying something sexual, usually to more than one person, but sometimes not. I reckon the person who the audience is most supposed to laugh at is the hero’s housemate Harry, whose character is basically that he’s randomly rude to people. When Tim goes to stay with him for the first time, he is shown to his room and is almost immediately told he can f*** Harry’s sister when Tim sees her picture. Mildly amusing I suppose if you’re in a certain mood, but juvenile and actually more disturbing than funny, especially if we are actually supposed to like this person. It’s nowhere near as disturbing though as Tim’s sister Kit Kat [!], who is almost incestuously touchy-feely with her family and even pounces on Mary when she first meets the family. I guess it’s supposed to show how needy she is, but all it does is create frustration at Curtis hinting at something complex or disturbing but then backing away from it.

The opening immediately sets a bad tone when Tim, narrating [remember, Domhnall Gleeson sounds like Hugh Grant], describes his family, over images of them, in a way which is obviously supposed to be funny, but isn’t. We do soon get into the story and things get going very quickly. Tim is informed by his dad that the male members of their family can travel back in time, and straight away starts to use his gift, though of course mostly for himself. The film quickly becomes a variant on Groundhog Day, but unlike the changes in emotion and variety of that film’s repeating of events, it basically stays on one level and soon becomes a bit tedious. Tim says something wrong?  Bingo….he goes back in time to change what he said. Sometimes he helps other people with his gift, and the time travelling eventually leads to some quite moving scenes between father and son, with another fine Bill Nighy performance. However, the film repeatedly breaks its own rules regarding its fantasy aspect. Dad says to son that he can’t change history, but later on son does that very thing. He also says that it’s just male family members who have this gift, but a female one later on goes back in time.

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Of course time travel tales are full of paradoxes – it’s part of what makes them such fun – but here it soon becomes apparent that it’s all just a gimmick upon which to hang Curtis’s view of the world, which is basically that it’s all wonderful and everyone’s lovely. There’s nothing wrong with saying that if that’s what you think, and Curtis managed this well at the beginning and end of Love Actually, where even I felt all happy and lovey-dovey and not only that but felt pleased that I had been manipulated to feel that way. The last twenty minutes of About Time though are thoroughly nauseating. For what seems like an eternity, we are fed images of people smiling, being nice and doing favours for others while Domhnall Gleeson [remember, he sounds like Hugh Grant] goes on and on in the narration ramming home points like how you have to appreciate each and every day. Frankly, all this could have been cut to about two minutes. Feeling warm inside? No way, I felt like throwing up and came out wanting to hit the nearest person. There are occasionally times where the act of emotional manipulation can go too far.

There is no doubt that About Time is a very personal film for Curtis, but it needed a lot of work in all its stages to actually make it a good one. There is one rather ‘dark’ moment involving a baby, but it doesn’t fit with the rest of the film. His direction, which is mostly as smooth and unobtrusive as ever, uses extreme close-ups in a couple of scenes to good effect, but every now and again uses the dreaded [well, by me anyway, and hopefully by anybody who cares about cinema] ‘shakycam’ technique [somebody following the cast members with a handheld camera shaking it about as if they are epileptic] for a few seconds. It jars incredibly and is pointless. Meanwhile, aside from the father and son scenes mentioned earlier, little convinces. Gleeson and Rachel McAdams [used to time travelling] don’t help by having no chemistry whatsoever. Good points? Well, the couple’s first meeting is cute and original, it occurring in almost total darkness. There is a very funny bit where Tim uses his gift to make sex better. The soundtrack includes good stuff from the likes of The Cure, Amy Winehouse and Nick Cave, and the Cave song is cleverly used more than once, but as usual too often the songs just seem thrown in there and are too frequent.

There’s probably a half-decent 90 min film that exists somewhere in About Time, but it’s hard to locate amongst all the sludge and maudlin tedium, much of which actually feels like deleted scenes from The Time Traveller’s Wife [which wasn’t great in itself, but at least seemed like a fully realised project]. It may wear its heart on its sleeve, but here that’s nowhere near enough.

Rating: ★★★★☆☆☆☆☆☆

About Dr Lenera 3109 Articles
I'm a huge film fan and will watch pretty much any type of film, from Martial Arts to Westerns, from Romances [though I don't really like Romcoms!]] to Historical Epics. Though I most certainly 'have a life', I tend to go to the cinema twice a week! However,ever since I was a kid, sneaking downstairs when my parents had gone to bed to watch old Universal and Hammer horror movies, I've always been especially fascinated by horror, and though I enjoy all types of horror films, those Golden Oldies with people like Boris Karloff and Christopher Lee probably remain my favourites. That's not to say I don't enjoy a bit of blood and gore every now and again though, and am also a huge fan of Italian horror, I just love the style.

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