ABOUT TIME: Universal Pictures. Released 17th. October, 2013. Starring: Rachel McAdams, Domhnail Gleeson, and Bill Nighy. Directed by Richard Curtis. Rated M (Coarse language and sexual references). 123 min.
This is a British romantic, sci-fi comedy about time travel. That theme has cropped up in many movies ("Time Traveller's Wife", 2009, for example, with Rachel McAdams), and some of them have involved the same actors as well.
The story is intricate and complex. The main character in this film travels through time to change things in the past for what he thinks might be better for him and for others in the present - a common intent in almost all time-travel movies.
Tim Lake (Domhain Gleeson) and his father (Bill Nighy) come from a Cornish family that is able to travel through time, but certain rules apply. Tim is told by his father on his 21st. birthday (as he was) that only male members of the family have the skill, and the travel must be always backwards. The rules for appropriate travel make things awkward when they are broken. For example, travelling back in time when things are made a little different may cause a different child to be born and the original child to be lost.
The film plays loosely with time travel in different ways. But despite some plot inconsistencies and rule-breaking, the film's core moral messages manage to find their mark.
Tim is not all that expert in matters of the heart and he falls in love with an insecure girl called Mary (Rachel McAdams), who he meets at a "dreaded New Year's party". Unable to meet Mary at a time she expects, for example, Tim uses time travel to try to re-arrange things, and, not surprisingly, problems result.
The chemistry between Tim and Mary is particularly good and Gleeson and McAdams are delightfully spontaneous together. Using his special skill, Tim does all he can to try to turn himself into an ideal partner and travels back in time regularly to correct or change unfortunate statements or messy situations that he has created in the past, or he knows has happened to others. His efforts are not entirely successful. What he does often creates difficulties for himself and those around him, and his happiness with Mary in the present is affected as a result.
This is a sweet, light romance movie that is directed whimsically by Richard Curtis. He uses time travel as a device to deliberately communicate the film's main messages and to raise its smiles and laughs. The movie actually weds its sub-plots together by means of the device. For example, time travel is used by Tim to deepen his attachment to Mary, but Tim also uses it to explore a son's relationship with a dying father. Tim's father develops cancer and Tim goes back in time (at his father's request) to share again moments of affection he had with his father in the past. As the film develops, meaningful emotional attachment emerges as the overarching theme that integrates the whole movie, and Richard Curtis explores the dimensions of emotional attachment in interesting and original ways.
This is a movie that is well-made and well-directed, and it has good acting to push its core messages home which are very positive. The film charms the viewer into accepting its basic argument: despite what might have been mistakes in the past, meaningful commitment, love and happiness depend on what exists now, and it is the present which needs to be enjoyed and nurtured for the right attachments and relationships to be able to continue. "All the time travel in the world", the movie tells us, "can't make someone love you".
Peter W. Sheehan is associate of the Australian Catholic Office for Film and Broadcasting.
Out 17th. October, 2013.