Preston Sturgess is often regarded as the classic master of the romantic comedy. Closer to our generation many may suggest that mantle was taken up by the late, great Nora Ephron. But to me, the filmmaker who consistently gives us the best of love and laughter is Richard Curtis. Creator of such films as “Notting Hill” and “Love Actually,” Curtis once again has delivered another gem in “About Time.”
We first meet Tim (Gleeson, probably best known as older brother Bill Weasley in the “Harry Potter” film series) at a New Years Eve party. He is trying to catch the eye of a cute girl or two but, when midnight arrives, finds himself next to a nice girl who fancies him. Instead of a quick New Years kiss, Tim shakes her hand, sending her off in tears.
Jump ahead to an important day in any young man’s life – his twenty-first birthday. After cake and presents, Tim’s dad (Nighy) takes him aside and shares a family secret. It seems that all males in the family, upon turning twenty-one, have a limited ability to travel in time. They can’t go forward but they can go back. However, they can only go back to a time where they themselves were (which means they can’t go back and kill Hitler). Tim scoffs at this information but his father assures him it’s true. All you have to do is go into a dark place, clench your fists and think about where you want to go. Still thinking it’s all a put-on, Tim retreats to his bedroom closet and clenches his fist. Moments later he emerges in different clothes, the sound of a party outside the door. It’s New Years Eve again. This time he kisses the girl!
Brilliantly written and well directed by Curtis (this is his third film behind the camera), “About Time” is just another jewel in his crown as the reigning romantic comedy king. Always on the lookout for love, Tim and a friend attend an unusual restaurant where two men are paired with two women they’ve never met. They dine and chat but the catch is that they do it in pitch darkness. You get along, or don’t get along, based on your conversations, not your appearances. After several hours in the dark Tim runs into Mary, his dinner companion, outside. They talk for a few more moments and Tim boldly asks for her phone number, which she gives him. Returning home he learns that his playwright roommate is despondent because an unprepared actor has ruined his new play. Excusing himself for a moment Tim goes back in time to the performance, assists the actor and ensures raves for the production. Hoping to spend time with Mary he attempts to call her, only to find her name and number are no longer in his phone. When he went back to help the play this made him miss the random dinner engagement, meaning he and Mary never met. What is a love-struck boy to do? How can you find love when it doesn’t even remember who you are?
As with many of other Curtis-written films, the lines are only as good as the actors who deliver them. “About Time” is cast with some first rate talent, led by the romantic leads Gleeson and McAdams. And, as is the case in pretty much every film he’s in, hats off to the brilliant Bill Nighy. There is always something about him on-screen that makes him seem like a friend, not a character (except of course when he’s playing the creepy Davy Jones in the “Pirates” movies). He is the emotional anchor of the film and keeps Tim grounded when needed. Also well cast are Lydia Wilson, as Tim’s strong-appearing but vulnerable sister Kit-Kat and Richard Cordery as the dignified Uncle Desmond, who doesn’t say much but what he says is gold! Gleeson and McAdams shine as they meet, fall in love then have to start all over again. The relationship feels fresh and there is not a false word in the script. If there is a quibble it’s that the film seems to drag towards the end. But that’s certainly not enough of a reason not to head to the multiplex this week and take in one of the best films of the season.