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to Section One | to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, November 8 2013 - Volume 41 Issue 45
Uneven About Time is a bewitching father-son drama
Arts & Entertainment
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Uneven About Time is a bewitching father-son drama

by Sara Michelle Fetters - SGN A&E Writer

ABOUT TIME
Opens November 8


About Time is a good movie. It is also a remarkably infuriating one. Richard Curtis' latest foray as writer/director is as glorious and as frustrating as anything found in either Love Actually or Pirate Radio, and while the highs outnumber the lows that does make the more annoying portions any less maddening. It is a movie that I feel reasonably OK recommending but with numerous reservations, the father-son dynamics of the narrative working splendidly while the love story facets sadly come up ever-so slightly short.

It has a complicated enough conceit for a movie that is, at its core, amazingly simple. On his 21st birthday Tim Hall (Domhnall Gleeson) learns from his father (Bill Nighy) the family secret that all the male members of his bloodline apparently have the ability to travel through time. Not his sister Kit Kat (Lydia Wilson), most definitely not his beloved mum (Lindsay Duncan) - only him and no one else, a treasured secret he and dear old Dad can share, learn from, and manipulate at their leisure.

There are rules, and it isn't like Tim has free reign to go back to any point in time that he wants or change the course of human history. But, exploring his own life? Making different choices? Going along a new path? This he can do, and every now and then by doing so maybe he'll be able to help someone he's close to or find someone to open his heart to in the process.

MORE THAN A ROMANCE
Initially it appears as if Curtis is going to use these ideas and this scenario to tell a relatively straightforward love story, Tim meeting the girl of his dreams, American Mary (Rachel McAdams), only to subsequently lose her when he travels backward to help playwright Harry (Tom Hollander) achieve the success his latest work richly deserves. A good portion of the first couple of acts revolve around him trying to get back into her sphere of existence, doing all he can to win the girl's heart without coming across like a court jester playing the fool for a sadistic monarch.

But it quickly becomes apparent this is not the story Curtis is interested in telling, and as enchanting McAdams is early on as things progress her character gets pushed more and more toward the sidelines. Tim and Mary's love affair is something of an aggravating afterthought, and even though their initial meet-cute is glorious, the rest of their romance is one dimensional and stilted. It is as if the filmmaker loses interest in her as a character, almost like Curtis needed Mary as a device to get Tim where he wanted him and nothing more. As such their relationship isn't as touching as I felt it needed to be, didn't move me in any of the ways I wanted it to, making their final scenes together more routine and rudimentary than anything memorable.

The same cannot be said, however, for the actual story Curtis is telling, and let me say loud and clear this is as wonderful a thing as anything I could have hoped for when I entered the theater for the promo screening. In the same way that Field of Dreams isn't really about baseball, the director uses time travel and romantic comedy trappings to unexpectedly lead the audience into an honest, authentic, and blissfully emotional saga of a son's relationship with his father. The heart of all of this belongs to Tim and his dad, their journeys, where they are headed, how they have lived their lives, that is what all of this has been about, and for all the misdirection and the sleight-of-hand the ultimate destination brought justified tears to my eyes.

A PERFECT PAIR
None of which would matter if Gleeson and Nighy weren't so darn terrific and shared some of the best on-screen chemistry I've seen in all of 2013. They make a dynamic pair, each so easily playing off of the other that their final scenes can't come off as anything less than magnificent even if Curtis is breaking his own time-travel rules in order for them to even be taking place. I believed they were father and son, never once doubting the strength of their relationship, both actors having a field day sharing the other's company making everything happening to them hit home in a way that was personal and intimate.

The counterpoint is that, as well-realized as these elements can be, they only cast a spotlight on the portions of the film that don't come off nearly as well. I've already stated my complaints in regards to both the love story and Mary's character, but the shortcomings unfortunately do not end there. Kit Kat is also a character that is irritating in more ways than I can count, and while I have the feeling Curtis wanted to explore tangents of mental illness, recovery, support, and reconciliation, sadly none of this is as developed in a way that feels real.

There are other issues, most notably in regards to pacing (never one of the director's strengths - even his screenwriter-only efforts like Notting Hill and Four Weddings and a Funeral have problems as to length) and with side plots that add little and rarely go places of interest, but for whatever reason these issues didn't vex me as much as they normally would. Even with its problems, even though portions clearly are nowhere near as well-realized as they might have been, the core elements of About Time have a melodious, intoxicating quality that made me smile. It's a good movie, and I can't be too angry that it isn't anything more than that.

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