Fortunately, About Time is more coherent and less stick-your-fingers-down-your-throat than either of its predecessors, Love Actually or The Boat That Rocked. Yes, it’s a romance, but one that feels a little more soulful.
It’s driven by Domhnall Gleeson as Tim, an aspiring lawyer who learns – at the age of 21 – a family secret from his father (Bill Nighy). Put simply, the men in their family have the ability to travel back in time. They can’t rock up at any point in history, but they can return to various points in their own lives. All they need to do is disappear into a dark space – a wardrobe will do – and will themselves back.
Tim uses this talent in his romantic pursuit of Mary (Rachel McAdams): repeatedly flashing back into his near-past whenever he botches it, he even smoothes out their first rather quick-on-the-draw sexual encounter.
So a Brit-flick Groundhog Day? Not quite. Curtis isn’t too interested in logic loops and continuum consequences; as Tim discovers, the less he can use those backwards jumps, the better.
Had Justin Timberlake and co not already grabbed the title, In Time might have been more apt, for Curtis’ film is all about making the most of life while you can. Sounds corny, but as the second half unfurls, it’s a sentiment that plays out tenderly – not least between Tim and his father. A pity, however, that Curtis still insists on seeing his characters live in a fantasy-portrait of well-to-do Britain.
While McAdams is rather bland, making you wonder just why Tim would go to all the time-bending trouble for her, the big draw here is Gleeson, who manages his first major lead with aplomb. A charming presence – and more down-to-earth than Hugh Grant could ever hope to be – he’d have made an excellent Doctor Who.
Ditching the trademark forced theatrics, About Time finds Richard Curtis in more reflective mood. Don’t expect a life-changer, but it’s a pleasant shift of pace.