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Friday, November 1, 2013

(Review) ABOUT TIME: Time Travel with an Infatuation Junkie and a Manic Pixie Dream Girl

I can't say I've been a huge fan of Richard Curtis's impossibly sweet and quirky romantic films, but I have always admired the filmmaker's penchant for charm mixed with accessible adult themes. However, his latest, ABOUT TIME, is a bit too cutesy and monotonous for my taste.

It doesn't help that its premise, a time-traveling romance set in London, is astoundingly basic even for the genre. Aside from John Guleserian's aptly glorious cinematography (which immediately makes you want to hop the first flight to the U.K.), the story runs itself into the ground with repetitive scenes and themes. It hampers the genuinely heartfelt moments with constant re-pacing that takes you out of the emotion.

Domhnall Gleeson (of both Harry Potter and the Death Hallows films) stars as Tim, a perpetually lovesick young man who learns from his father (Bill Nighy) that the men in their family have the ability to travel back and forth in time. Like the audience, Tim doesn't believe this news. But once he entertains his father's announcement by standing still and...concentrating really hard with his hands balled into fists (this is literally what he must do in order to time travel)..he realizes that it's true. So he tries to take advantage of it every chance he gets. But of all the things he can manipulate with time, what does he want to control most of all? Love, actually.

You can probably guess how the movie will turn out from there. We endure two full hours of Tim redoing each scene of his life so that it goes in the precise manner he so wishes (from his "first time" to meeting "the one" and his eventual marriage and birth of his child). The film is an overly long attempt for its lead character to create the picturebook life of his dreams.

Speaking of dreams, his revolves solely around Mary, a character as dull and recycled as her name suggests. Naturally, she's played by Rachel McAdams, who seems to be every guy's dream girl in movieland. Or, as the millenials may say, every guy's "manic pixie dream girl." She materializes in Tim's life one night at a bizarre yet oddly fanciful nightclub, during which he realizes that she is his soul mate. Mary is a reader for a publishing company, based in London (her acquired residence is never explained despite having an American accent), and obsessed with Kate Moss. She is the the girl of, like, 1995. There's noting really modern, or distinct, about her. Flighty, smiley and ludicrously perfect, despite revealing to Tim's mother at one point that she "has a bad temper sometimes." We never get to see that, and her storyline surely could have benefited from that bit of edge. Otherwise, she's a blank slate merely there to ornament the male character's progression. McAdams, seemingly to be stuck in this trope, was at one point in her career better than this.

Despite the slightness of the female characterization (which isn't much better with Tim's spastic sister played by Lydia Wilson--who puts the manic and manic pixie), there is something to be said about Gleeson's welcoming male voice in the genre. Tim is unrelentingly sentimental and idealistic, two traits typically seen from the female character. Gleeson is serviceable in the role, effectively portraying a youthful optimism found in many of Curtis's characters. But it is Nighy of whom we don't see enough. His brief but far more nuanced contribution to the film gives it heart just as the central romance becomes too flighty for us to care about it anymore. Trouble is, this comes very late in the film.

While ABOUT TIME may appeal to fans of Curtis and those who love whimsical romance, there's just not enough freshness to the story to make you remember it. Its unnecessary 123-minute run time made the film fall off the rails at times, despite notable efforts from both Gleeson and Nighy. It's a shame that Curtis may be ending his directing career with this dud.

Rating: C- (** out of *****)

ABOUT TIME is in select theaters Friday. It opens nationwide on November 8th.


Brittani Burnham said...

I kind of figured this would be a dud. I hope Rachel McAdams doesn't get stuck in this genre forever. It seems like that's all she ever does now.

Daniel said...

A shame this is a miss, Richard Curtis is one of the few Rom-com directors I can endure. Sound incredibly repetitive.

Dan O. said...

Good review Candice. The movie was a bit of a mess, albeit, a very sentimental and sappy one. And I was fine with that since that's what I expect from Curtis' sense of writing and style, but here, he just reached for it a bit too hard and couldn't come up with anything that was worth tearing-up over.

Dan said...

I thoroughly enjoyed About Time although I'm a sucker for anything time-travel related. But, that aside, I thought the two leads were terrific (and ably supported). Curtis is at his most wonderfully whimsical in About Time and I found myself being totally taken in by it. Rachel McAdams is terrific - when is she ever not - but I thought Gleeson did a terrific job in the usually-saved-for-Hugh-Grant role. I can understand your reservations which have been echoed by others - the key reasons why the film has divided audiences. But I allowed the film to wash over me, which helped me forgive its shortcomings. Indeed, I feel Curtis is a better writer than director and think he is right to hang up his director's boots. The film loses some of its appeal thanks to Curtis' over-indulgence as director - certainly, someone not as enamored by the source material may have found 15 to 20mins to cut out. But overall, I really enjoyed this film.

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