By Joan Ellis
“About Time” is a great mood movie.
We’re all familiar with the feeling of being too life-weary for a serious drama, too weak for adventure, suspicious of comedies – what then to see tonight? Try this gentle, slightly offbeat British family yarn that is delivered for our pleasure by an appealing cast headed by a thoroughly charming young Brit, Domhnall Gleeson.
On his 21st birthday, Tim Lake’s (Gleeson) father (Bill Nighy) has some news for him, a family secret of sorts. The men of the Lake family, he reveals, all have the ability to travel back in time – nothing so grand as visiting other eras with the power to change history – just simple trips to their own pasts where they can try to fix their own mistakes or help other people. How’s that for a special power? What, Dad asks, will Tim look for in his trips to his past? “Love,” Tim replies.
And so Tim travels back to find the girl he once met whose number he lost. She would be Mary (Rachel McAdams) a pretty girl whose insecurity makes Tim’s own seem less crippling. Inexperienced, Tim will make mistakes as he navigates the learning curve of his gift. When he needs to correct a misstep, he travels back again to start anew. The fun of this for the audience lies in trying to anticipate the ripple effects of his actions.
Several things make this movie even better than its premise. First, don’t underestimate the pleasure of reflecting on your own life. Tim’s dad’s directive to use the gift to make his life the way he really wants it to be is an invitation to the audience as well. It’s safe to bet that we will ponder our own moves and mistakes. What would I do – or not do?
Another plus here is director Richard Curtis’ introduction of the Lake family at the outset. He does it quickly in short, telling takes. With just a few brushstrokes, Curtis gives us the family chemistry, complete with their endearing idiosyncrasies.
Full of eccentrics, this family is fun to watch: Uncle D (Richard Cordery), not all there, but loyal to all; Lindsay Duncan as Tim’s astringent Mum; Rachel McAdams’ warm but shy Mary. Bill Nighy creates the heart of the film with Dad’s deep love for his son, tempered by the wise certainty that the boy must fly free on his own. This is an actor who lifts any story he’s in by several notches, and he does it again here.
Domhnall Gleeson creates in Tim a lovable nerd, a young man who would rather expire on the spot than assume anyone might like him. Gleeson, tall and skinny under a mop of red hair, does a great job of moving Tim from his unentitled self to the calm confidence of adulthood as he designs his life. He’s front and center full time in this lighthearted movie and we never tire of watching him.
Joan Ellis’ address on the Internet, which contains her review library, is JoanEllis.com.