About Time (Universal Pictures, R)

About-Time 75Where the movie really transcends is in its depiction of a relationship between a father and son.

About-Time 500

There’s a weird trend amongst critics and film enthusiasts of completely dismissing any form of sentimentality. I get it. There’s nothing worse than some soulless romance or kid’s film that suddenly tries really hard to tug on your heartstrings in the last act. There’s something very cynical about that, but when it comes to directors like Steven Spielberg, or in this case Richard Curtis (Love Actually, Four Weddings and a Funeral), I don’t think they are being cynical at all. I think they are very genuine, and to completely write them off for being unironically sappy seems ignorant.

About Time is the story of Tim (played by the very good Domhnall Gleeson). At the age of 21, he is told by his father (the always delightful Bill Nighy) that the men in their family have the ability to travel back in time to moments from their past. This is not weighty time travel, only the ability to make small adjustments in your own life. It’s where a lot of the film’s humor comes from, but of course, it ends up having greater consequences.

Interestingly, the trailer for the film is cut in a way that very clearly tells the audience about a major plot development. That’s always annoying, but in this case, the footage is portraying a plot development that is not actually in the film. That’s weird, and I’m not sure how to feel about it, but it was nice to actually be surprised.

Of course, being a Richard Curtis film, About Time is ultimately a love story, and love stories depend on the likability of the characters. Gleeson is very charming, and he is paired up with Rachel McAdams. There was a time when McAdams seemed poised to take the title of “America’s Sweetheart” but I guess she blinked, and Amy Adams stole it from her. I like both of them a lot, and McAdams is certainly still known, but I feel like she hasn’t gotten the praise and fame that she really deserves. It’s nice to see her in a role where she can really shine.

Curtis is known as a writer and director of romantic comedies, but the romance is not About Time’s greatest asset. Where the movie really transcends is in its depiction of a relationship between a father and son. Bill Nighy may never have had a more lovable role, and the way he impacts his son’s life is truly moving. You can tell that Curtis really loves his characters, and it makes it easy for us to love them too.

I saw About Time at an early screening the night before Gravity was released. Earlier that day, I toyed with the idea of going right from this to the late night show of Gravity, but decided against it because I didn’t want Gravity to taint my view of this movie. Once I had seen both, I was surprised to find that About Time actually tainted my view of Gravity. Gravity blew me away technically, but left me emotionally cold, whereas About Time affected me in extreme ways that I can’t exactly describe. I don’t want to undersell the humor, but I ended up taking something much deeper from it. Tim doesn’t use time travel to live a particularly special life; he just uses it to appreciate his very normal life. If you scoff at sentimentality, that idea will be lost on you, but if you are on board with this movie, it will make you think differently, if only for a brief moment, about your own life. It’s a great film, and at the risk of sounding like one of those cheesy critics who get quoted in TV spots, it’s actually life affirming. | Sean Lass

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