By Susan JAMES
After a summer of crash, bang, and especially boom, catching “About Time,” a new film from British writer/director Richard Curtis, is like curling up with a cup of hot chocolate before a friendly fireplace. You can sip the chocolate slowly and never spill a drop. This isn’t one of the flashy, star-driven vehicles that Curtis is famous for – “Four Weddings and a Funeral,” “Notting Hill” and “Love Actually” – but instead is a gentle walk through the lives of people who love each other and go to great lengths to show it.
Domhnall Gleeson (Harry Potter’s Bill Weasley) plays Tim, a shy, gangly, ginger-haired kid in his late teens who has spent an idyllic childhood in a rambling old house in Cornwall. He is particularly close to his retired professor father, played by the always wonderful Bill Nighy. Tim is a romantic who has trouble meeting girls and is saddled with a best friend Jay (Will Merrick) who is even more socially clueless than he is.
On his 21st birthday, Tim’s father sits him down to explain a great secret – the men in their family have a special gift. They can go back in time, but only along their own time stream. They can revisit earlier days in their lives, relive them and change events in them if they want to. Tim naturally thinks his father is bonkers but he tries it out. He hides in the bedroom closet, closes his eyes and appears a day earlier in his own past. Excited, confused and frightened by his new abilities, Dad gives him good advice: Don’t go for the money. That rarely turns out well. Don’t try to change the world. Stick to the little things and happiness will unfold.
Tim moves to London and rents a room from a temperamental writer friend of his father’s. He becomes an attorney and meets Mary, a reader at a publishing house, played with bubbling enthusiasm by Rachel McAdams. Their first meeting in a pitch black, upscale restaurant run by blind men is hilariously absurd. From there, the movie wanders through their life together and how Tim’s gift for time travel both helps and hinders that life.
As with most Curtis films, well-known British actors pop in for cameo performances. Two of the most amusing are the late Richard Griffiths and Richard E. Grant as actors unable to remember their lines on the opening night of their play.
Curtis loves people and his movies always seem to show them at their best. “About Time” is no exception. There are no sudden deaths in the library. Mom isn’t two-timing Dad with the stable boy. Little sister didn’t disappear 20 years ago only to magically reappear as a world-renowned computer hacker. Poignant, not tragic, is the mood here because, as Tim discovers, once he has become a father, no time travel is possible back to the days before the baby’s birth. With each successive child, his life looks increasingly to the future and significant bits of the past are lost forever.
But Curtis asks us to remember and to treasure those lost bits and he has created a film that proves it’s possible.
See you at the movies!