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About Time

Whenever I’m faced with a movie about time travel, I try to bear in mind the words of Basil Exposition in The Spy Who Shagged Me, as he answers Austin Powers’s questions about the logical implausibilities and inconsistencies of time travel with a soothing, “I suggest you don’t worry about those things and just enjoy yourself.” He then turns to face the camera and advises the viewers, “That goes for you all, too.”

That’s easier to do with some movies than others. I managed a few years ago with The Time Traveler’s Wife, starring Rachel McAdams as a woman married to a man who, like Slaughterhouse Five’s Billy Pilgrim, was unstuck in time. At the time I called it a “dreamily resonant and emotionally gripping romantic wallow.”

McAdams is back as another woman married (eventually) to a chrononaut. The difference here is that he can control it. And she doesn’t know about it.

About Time’s focus is on Tim (Domhnall Gleeson, son of Brendan). We first meet him at 21, being told by his dad (Bill Nighy) that the men in their family have the power to revisit events in their own pasts. When a test proves Dad to be correct, you start thinking of all the things you would do if you were 21 and thus blessed.

Tim does none of those. He only makes some use of his ability when he meets Mary (McAdams), the course of true love needing some adjustments.

About Time was written and directed by Richard Curtis, who wrote Four Weddings and a Funeral and Notting Hill before moving into the director’s chair for Love, Actually. There are two things that he likes to do and which he can do fairly well: create engaging characters and produce warm, fuzzy moments. What he can’t do very well is create a context for these. Love, Actually simply dispensed with the drudge work by giving you only the big crowd-pleasing moments from a dozen or so loosely linked stories.

Watching About Time (which takes up a lot of it, more than two hours), you get the impression that Curtis threw in the stuff about time travel simply to give the film a marketing point. So much of the film dispenses with it, and the parts that do use it so drably, that you sense he’s not very interested with it. It’s mostly a distraction: We spend so much time thinking about what Tim could do, or what the consequences of some of his actions might be, that it takes us out of the story. (Or at least the strung-together moments that pass for a story.)

Moment by moment, About Time is all quite watchable, but in the end it has little lasting effect. Curtis needs to flesh out his strengths with a real story involving his pleasant people rather than a pointless gimmick.

Watch the trailer for About Time

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