Our new film and book reviewer Robert Wood opens his account by enduring the familiar.
Director Richard Curtis, Universal Pictures, 2013.
I only cringed once during About Time, but it lasted for an hour. Hero Tim (Domhnall Gleeson, in a character naming that would still be lazy even if it wasn’t ‘Time’ with an ‘e’ snipped off the end) is paralysingly inept at… existing. If you’re one of those people who can’t watch Fawlty Towers then you’re not going to make it past the twenty minute mark. Eventually things settle down and you’ll be able to take your head out of your t-shirt. A special mention has to be made of the film’s trailer which uses non-existing scenes to plot out a (possibly much better) film. If you haven’t seen the trailers avoid them, they’ll warp your expectations of what’s coming in a way that genuinely changes the movie. If you have seen the trailers try to forget every clip that didn’t include Bill Nighy.
The film follows the Richard Curtis blueprint so thoroughly it could almost be a parody and if you’re going to enjoy yourself you’ll have to leave cynicism at home (get it a sitter, although it won’t like them.) Tim starts out ensconced in the bosom of his idyllic family of quirky quirksters (dad Bill Nighy, mum Lindsay Duncan and a well utilised Lydia Wilson as little sister ‘Kit Kat’) who eat lunchtime sandwiches on the beach come rain or shine. He sticks around long enough to establish the secondary characters then sets off to London to woo a quirky lady (Rachel McAdams, Mean Girls and Sherlock Holmes) who fits into the family so snugly there’s a real worry she may be a long lost sister. Aided by downplayed time travel powers he gets into a few scrapes and figures out there’s more to life than insert relatable hang-up here. At the halfway mark the film starts flirting with darkness before levelling suspiciously, to the extent that you might suspect a rewrite. There are plenty of sad moments, those of you with excess empathy should take a few bottles of water to make up for hydration lost crying, but nothing that tests what you were expecting when you walked in.
About Time knows itself though and avoids irritation by never pretending to be something else. If you’re happily off to see a Richard Curtis movie then you won’t be disappointed. The main character narrating for no particular reason, a stable of background characters just offbeat enough to add colour and misunderstandings that no functioning human would ever cause, it’s all there. There’s nothing special on offer but that doesn’t mean it isn’t powerful, tapping into the feelings you have for your own family rather than creating any for the characters. Really the film is only half the experience; if it does its job you’ll spend half of it looking at the person you came with. Richard Curtis hasn’t outdone himself but then that’s not what we go to Richard Curtis for. Low hanging fruit will do when all you want is an apple.
Domhnall Gleeson nails his performance as Bill Nighy’s awkward son, cleverly repurposing the elder actor’s trademark drawl as a panicked hesitation. His performance mixes rom-com mainstay Hugh Grant with comedian Stephen Merchant, turning out a charming character who always seems as if he’s about to trip over. The movie is firmly about Tim, with other characters just rounded enough for us to understand why he cares about them. Despite being played by a ‘name’, Mary’s characterisation starts and ends with a haircut and an appreciation of Kate Moss. Likewise Bill Nighy plays himself but then if you can have Bill Nighy why would you want anyone else? The underrated Tom Hollander bobs in and out as acidic playwright Harry whose brilliant put-downs (‘Does your mother still look like Andy Warhol?’) make every scene he’s in. The film doesn’t offer anything new but sometimes you don’t want new, you want life affirming, and there you won’t be disappointed.
Check out more of Robert’s writing here – http://absentapologies.blogspot.co.uk/