“Our lives are the sum total of the choices we have made” – Dr. Wayne Dyer
The ability of Richard Curtis to write brilliant romantic comedy films is well known. Four Weddings and a Funeral, Notting Hill and the adaptation of the novel Bridget Jones’s Diary show off his chops in the genre. His directorial debut Love Actually was an amazing debut film. Now he once again intertwines love and tough choices in About Time. “Tim” (Gleeson) has just turned 21 and suffered through another disappointing New Year’s Eve party at the home where he lives with his father “Dad” (Nighy), “Mum” (Duncan) and his beloved sister “Kit Kat” (Wilson).
Then his father drops a bombshell on him. The men in their family have a limited ability to move backward through time. They can’t go into the future and they can only go back as far as the beginning of their own lives. Also, there are risks and consequences, although these aren’t laid out in their entirety. Tim thinks his father is joking until he tries to move through time himself and gets a do-over of an awkward moment at midnight during the party. Now he faces a life where he isn’t permanently tied to his choices. He can go back and make different choices.
Resolving not to use his gift for avarice, he decides to focus on finding a girlfriend. Having moved from the family home in Cornwall to London, where he is working as a lawyer, he chances to meet a woman named “Mary” (McAdams). Thanks to his ability to go back and improve his interactions with her things are going well until something else he must go back and fix to help a friend change things so that he and Mary had never met. This can be remedied and soon Tim and Mary are happily ensconced in love and deciding to get married.
Mary gets pregnant and a lovely daughter named Posy becomes the center of his universe. However, a family crisis forces him to travel back in time to save a loved one and when he returns he discovers that his daughter is now a son. This is when he learns that a choice that leads to even a miniscule change can have major consequence. He is able to put things right to bring Posy back into his life, but at the cost of being unable to prevent that loved one from suffering.
Tim eventually learns the last fact about his gift and that being once his own son is born, he will no longer be able to travel back to any point prior to that son’s birth. It means that his ability to continue to see his father in the past will be gone. Will he therefore refuse to have another child, to prevent a son?
The cast is terrific. McAdams plays this role as an American Anglophile living her dream in London with an understated sense of wonder and joy. She’s a strong character who knows what she wants and how to get it. But it is Domhnall Gleeson who shines like a shooting star throughout this excellent film. I will admit to liking the work of Bill Nighy in every film I’ve seen him in and this is no exception.
Curtis’ effective use of words and imagery to evoke feelings and then matching the sequence on screen to just the right background music is one of the reasons he makes really good films. A very talented writer/director told me once that music shouldn’t be used to create the emotions, or inject them into a shot where they wouldn’t otherwise exist. They should enhance how the writer, director, and actor combine to create those feelings among the audience. This is a very, very solid rom-com, well worth a full-price admission. I plan to see it again.