Review: About Time (2013)

So, so much better than the marketing might suggest.

“From the makers of Love Actually and Notting Hill“, while technically true, is not only misleading, it mentions most prominently the worst of the films by those creators (Four Weddings and a Funeral is actually pretty good, despite a lot of the movies it likely inspired). This promotional approach – the movie poster image itself is also not helping things – all conspire to suggest that About Time is a romantic comedy, and likely a pretty typical one at that. What it doesn’t prepare you for – and what I was not prepared for, and hesitate to spoil in my usual unabashedly spoiler-filled reviews – is that this is…

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… a time-travel film. And one with a great heart.

Domhnall Gleeson and Rachel McAdams are a charm conglomerate here, and Bill Nighy is the film’s beating heart, as the father who informs his son that the men in their family hereditarily, inexplicably, have the ability to time travel at will.

It’s not the first film to use time travel as a romantic premise, or even to star Rachel McAdams while doing so. But what sets this apart from, say, The Time Traveller’s Wife, is that as it unfolds, About Time isn’t really about time travel, or even romance, but about family. All time travel movies eventually trip over their own “logic”, and About Time is clever to shift the focus from the literal mechanics of the rules of its version of time travel, to the effects, consequences and, above all, the limitations of such power. It asks what’s the most important thing worth travelling, worth living, for. And in a move which, again, the film’s marketing really misdirects, it’s not even romantic love that About Time ultimately champions. Gleeson’s Tim learns that nothing truly cherished can be held too close, and to value the people he loves in quieter, deeper ways. It’s an idea that’s hardly revolutionary, but in this context it’s positively subversive – and if romantic comedy audiences were exposed to this idea purely because they expected About Time to be more like the film makers’ other more vacuous (and frankly horrifying) films, then I’m all for the Trojan horsing of some basic nourishing ideas wrapped up in junk food movie packaging.