A charisma-free dork uses time travel to make personality-less babes fall in love with him.
Directed by Richard Curtis
Starring Domhnall Gleeson, Rachel McAdams, and Bill Nighy
Review by Jon Kissel
Curtis set out to make About Time as he pondered the meaning of happiness, and he provides viewers with his banal ideas about it. Companionship for companionship’s sake, Hallmark-level insights about taking in the moment, and placing more emphasis on joy than misery or boredom is what About Time has to offer. It’s empty and trite, befitting About Time itself. Tim’s sister Kit Kat (Lydia Wilson) is initially portrayed as a flibbertigibbet who’s idiosyncratic for idiosyncrasy’s sake, but at least that is a perspective. The film portrays her as interested in the wrong kind of man, which leads her to drinking, which leads to a car accident. Tim’s solution for his sister, who he claims to love because of her individuality, is to start dating his callow friend who she’s never previously expressed an interest despite knowing him her whole life, get a normal job, and have a family. Join the conformist masses and embrace the life of the productive middle class to experience happiness, all while your wardrobe and hairstyle become more drab and less colorful. This is a victory to About Time, on the same level of Ally Sheedy in Breakfast Club getting a third-act makeover. The outlying people to mainstream hacks like Curtis are wearing their dissatisfaction in their hair dye and their outre behavior, while those who’ve solved the mystery are sitting quietly on the subway in their suits, commuting between their white-collar jobs and their 2.5 children.
It would be one thing if Curtis was irredeemable as a director, with nothing but tropes and cliches filling his saccharine English shitpiles, but like in Love Actually, what’s awful about About Time sits next to stuff that is bafflingly affecting. If Curtis must make movies, he needs to stay away from the young and just focus on the middle-aged or the elderly. Nighy and Lindsay Duncan, playing Tim’s mother Mary, are excellent. Nighy’s quiet in a film that needs to calm down, and Duncan’s blunt in a film that needs the clarity of reason against the fog of emotion. However, their presence doesn’t improve the film, but instead accentuates its awfulness. The fact that Curtis has it in him to write these characters and get these performances makes the film even more frustrating, especially when he puts their words in Tim’s mouth. Shortly before James dies, he tells Tim what he believes is the secret to a happy life, and instead of having Nighy deliver this scene, Gleeson drones it out in voiceover. When you have Nighy, why wouldn’t you let him act? What is in Curtis guy that he could exhaust all of his talent in one small corner of About Time, and then the assemble the rest of it from warmed-over self-help pablum and cheap tricks?
About Time’s deep lack of imagination extends to the inclusion of dating montages and fashion montages that boggle the mind in both their lack of momentum and indulgent flabbiness. Because there’s no inventiveness in how the film approaches its gimmick or in what it does with it, there’s nothing to build the runtime or the plot except these interminable time-wasters. I am just utterly resistant to this mainstream idea of guy-gets-girl. Who is this for? Who falls for this? At least Curtis hasn’t directed a film since About Time, though he occasionally writes scripts for other directors. On behalf of humanity, please take the millions you’ve somehow bilked from studios and the ticket-buying public and stop. D