If I’m honest this year has been the first one in which I’ve actually seen both Four Weddings and a Funeral (1994) and Notting Hill (1999). You could say I’ve bowed to pressure to watch these films or I’ve just softened with age to think it’s about time to check them out. I was captured by the buoyant and very English dialogue of Richard Curtis, who for years felt trite and cliche. I could watch Blackadder, and put up with The Vicar of Dibley for a few years because I knew who the writer was, thinking he was attempted to be too contemporary, it felt forced. Now I found it to be just typical of his style and just sit back enjoy them all. Both Funeral and Hill just worked for me now I guess in part because I’ve reached a point in my life where I wanted to see what the fuss was about, and that I just don’t care about that attitude anymore. I felt the same about Lionel Richie for a long time until I thought s*** it, why not, now I’ve seen him twice in the past two years and sing along to his songs in the car. Yeah I’ve definitely softened. As much as I now enjoy Curtis’s writing, I draw the line at the Bridget Jones trilogy, which I think is a step too far right now. I did however want to catch About Time (2013), which I remember had a time travel element about it, which at the time of release I wrote off as a gimmick and let it drift by. After seeing Curtis’s earlier films this year I had to finally watch it.
On the surface of About Time it could be about anything besides time travel, set in contemporary UK, a middle class family and a white single young man whose about to have his life unfold. It looks like any other film penned by Curtis, as I discovered from his BAFTA screenwriting lecture I found on Youtube, writing what he knows is just that, love from a middle class background, can’t fault him from straying from his own experiences. Yet only a few scenes in after the introduction of a seemingly normal family of older parents with grown-up kids about to leave home, for 21 year old Tim (Domhnall Gleeson) he’s about to discover that all male members of his family can time travel. His father (Bill Nighy) reveals to him this last fact of life during his last summer before he leaves for a job in the law up in London. All it takes to travel back in time (not forward to the future, that would be crazy) or change history, just have the ability to change things in his own life. With these few restrictions he starts to learn how to navigate the next chapter of life with a completely different perspective compared to other young 20 somethings.
The first things he wants to do is fall in love, which hasn’t been all that successful up to this point. First trying to get together with his sisters friend Charlotte (Margot Robbie) that doesn’t quite work out, even when he does use his new found ability. He’s learning how he can change things if only just slightly. Already aware of how he can affect others around him. Through these early jumps back in the film that he’s finding his feet with his feet as he time travels. Each time is perfectly captured as he either leaves the frame or finds a dark cupboard to focus his energy. At this point it’s fun to see how his effect on the world and those around him can be so positive. If only George Bailey could have done this in It’s a Wonderful Life (1947) it would have removed the need for the second class angel altogether.
It’s a blind date, literally… where we first see things get really serious for Tim as he wants to make things happen, knowing that he can’t really use his ability to fall in love his does his best without. We hear the voice of Mary (Rachel McAdams) as her and her friend are chatting together on a double blind date. It’s equally awkward to hear and fun to watch as just for a moment he’s had a stroke of real luck, let’s hope he can keep hold of this and see her again. That’s before his frustrated playwright of an uncle angry about the poor reception of his play on opening night, down to one of his actors forgetting their lines at the close of the play. Tim takes it on himself to eventually rectify this error, which in turn results in him not meeting Mary. He like the audience is learning just how carefully he has to tread in order to get what he wants and still keep everyone happy.
Cue an extended section where after multiple attempts he finally get’s the girl and they start what becomes a long and lasting relationship, marriage and all the children that come with that. That’s not really a spoiler when you look at how he faces the obstacles in his life, choosing carefully how he should or shouldn’t use his ability to change the past of those he loves in order to save them. He’s going above and beyond. A patriarchal figure without even knowing it, juggling the lives of his family, we see he really cares for them, which is really endearing to the audience. Sometimes the effect doesn’t have the desired results that at times had me wondering how all his actions would effect his own personal timeline. This is where the sci fan in me came out, wanting to ensure he could balance out the causes and effects of his actions. He like anyone else just blagging it as we all do through life, just with one extra ball in the air.
Of course there are some plot holes and issues, from how Mary begins with an English accent before slipping and staying in an American accent for the remainder of the film. I forgave that as they make a lovely couple. To the fact that Tim seems to be a lawyer who’s super talented at 21 and is soon working in the courts, he’s smashing things at work. An aspect of his life that is only populated by his buffoon of a friend Rory (Joshua McGuire). We are also given a few more lines to explain how certain situations can’t be altered via time travel or caused by it as we progress. At times that either felt lazy or natural, depending on the scene. These are all small really in the grand scheme of a film that is both deeply touching, yes schmaltzy and funny all in the right balance. I’m definitely softening in the past year or so, allowing me to enjoy this wonderful film that got me thinking about how we should treasure the ones we love and the time we have with them. That’s a wonderful message to take away from a film that makes life feel good again, when all the c*** we have to deal with make you want to go back in time and fix those moments that could alter things for the better.