He directed Love Actually, was the writer for iconic rom-coms such as Notting Hill and Bridget Jones’s Diary, and served as exec producer on (as well as writing) the beloved Four Weddings and a Funeral. However, in 2013, Richard Curtis directed About Time, a quirky romantic comedy that did not achieve the same amount of prestige as the plethora of heartbreakers and pick-me-ups that he’d previously worked on, grossing a modest $89 million at the box office, compared to Love Actually‘s staggering $250 million in 2003. As one of my favourite rom-coms of all time, I refuse to accept that the praise for this film is to be so fleeting.
Accompanied by a sweetly understated soundtrack, About Time follows the story of the excruciatingly British Tim (played by the Irish Domhnall Gleeson) as his father (Bill Nighy) reveals to him that the men in their family can travel through time. Instead of an epic adventure of righting the world’s wrongs, or marvelling at the technological advances of the future, Tim will harness this unnatural power to get himself a girlfriend. Gleeson’s performance of a wide-eyed hopeless romantic is the cornerstone of the film’s success, perfecting a tricky balance between quirkiness and pathetic ineptitude.
We see Tim meet the endearingly introverted Mary (Rachel McAdams) three times in total, get married, and have children. Time travel is both an eccentric adornment to an otherwise simple plotline and the key to major emotional conflicts. Tim learns the price of time travel as he discovers its limits and, despite the assumed potency of erasing social blunders and perfecting romantic moments, there are times where we must painfully accept this manipulation of time does not mean that life can be perfect. The darker implications of time travel are portrayed in a light-hearted manner at first, as Tim accidentally never meets Mary when he rescues his housemate’s play, but its nasty side is revealed later on.
Despite its many strengths, About Time shouldn’t be free from criticism when it comes to how Curtis contends with female characters. The women in Tim’s family are unaware of his power, and therefore are resigned obliviously to whichever fate the father and son choose. Tim generally shows a lack of appreciation towards his platonic relationships with male characters, and women tend to be written along the classic ‘Madonna-whore’ dichotomy that perhaps has passed its sell-by date.
Nonetheless, it was a relief to find a reanimated use of time travel to contend with our personal relationship to time rather than find the same tired clichés that we are all too familiar with. Would you give up meeting the love of your life for your friend? Would you have a child knowing it would lock your lost loves away? Is it unfair to have these privileges when everyone else’s experience of time cannot be revisited?
It’s immensely refreshing to find such a heartwarming illustration of the mundane, the tedious, the quotidian. In spite of Curtis’s frankly sloppy handling of female characters, About Time shows the magic that is prevalent not just in the extraordinary, but rather the wonders of extra-ordinary life that we often overlook. About Time deserves more praise for its rendition of the everyday, not the epic.
Watch the trailer below: