Time-travel movies are risky. Repeated situations and scenes can go nowhere unless they’re tweaked enough to convey something new. And you need an urgency informing the proceedings; if you’re going on a temporal journey of any length with a character—main or otherwise—it’s got to matter.
Richard Curtis’ latest flick About Time misses on all of those fronts.
The story of Tim, a young man (played by Domhnall Gleeson) who uses his ability to travel backward in time to foster romantic adventures and generally change things for the better in his life, this insufferably dull, mawkish film makes Rashomon look cursory in its depiction of the same story told in various ways. Yet temporal adjustments can’t explain the duration of a scene in which Tim’s wife (Rachel McAdams) asks for his opinion on an endless stream of outfits, nor can it shed light on the woefully underwritten characters peppering the film in an attempt to infuse it with charm and humor. (Tim’s obnoxiously free-spirited sister Kit Kat and bitter playwright landlord are two such examples, providing full servings of eccentricity without definition or context.)
The fact is, the movie lags. I didn’t care about the protagonists. And despite the addition of some by-the-book weeper ingredients—a devastating illness for Tim’s father (Bill Nighy) and alcoholism for his sister—the picture comes off as disingenuous, with manipulation being the takeaway. That it’s derivative is a lesser issue, though films such as Run Lola Run and Groundhog Day, which used the same idea more judiciously, can’t be blamed for AT‘s faults. This movie made all its miscues on its own.
Curtis, who wrote Four Weddings and a Funeral, has done sparkling work before, and every director produces a dud once in a while. But flicks such as About Time get me worried about the cinema. They suggest, in my opinion, that a touch of unreality can make up for other issues—script, direction, performances and the like—yet it’s not an effective substitute. The best time-travel (or any) movies take you back with them and make you want to come along. They move quickly and economically … like time itself.
And you don’t check your watch while viewing them. About Time, sadly, waits for everyone.