No director/writer has shown a better understanding of the multi-faceted aspects of love than Richard Curtis. In his scripts for "Notting Hill," "Bridget Jones's Diary," "Four Weddings and a Funeral" and "Love Actually" he revealed incredible insight into the simplicities and complexities of falling in love.
Curtis has done it again with "About Time." Even with the fantasy element of time travel tossed into the mix, the film wraps itself around you with a sweetness and affection that resonates with the realities of love — the good and the bad. His production works because it's easy to relate to the events and they spark memories of our own loves and losses.
At the age of 21, Tim (Domhnall Gleeson) — an average-looking bloke who has struggled in the dating world — learns that he can travel through time. It's a trait all of the males in his family possess. He imagines the ability to correct social mishaps will make his quest much easier.
Here's where Curtis shows his skill. Instead of the film falling into a series of mishaps and corrections until Tim finds his perfect mate, "About Time" shows how Tim meets and falls for the perfect woman, Mary (Rachel McAdams), in a very real manner. There are some time travel bits, but Tim learns early that no amount of leaps through the years can make a person love you. That has to come naturally. Watching the relationship grow is what gives the movie depth.
Curtis was smart in selecting Gleeson, who is not the typical leading man who gets put in such tales. He's geeky and insecure enough that its easy for the audience to relate to him, and, in turn, root for him. It helps that Curtis cast McAdams, whose endearing charm on screen makes it easy to believe in love at first sight.
Gleeson and McAdams are magical together.
The surprise here is the deeply emotional father-son story. Bill Nighy plays Tim's father, a learned man who loves Charles Dickens, ping pong and tea on the beach. He also truly, deeply, madly loves his son. Their relationship is touching and always within the bounds of reality — even if they both can time travel.
As for the time travel element, Curtis has set up strict guidelines for how it works and sticks to those rules. It doesn't matter that much because this is not a movie about time travel; it's about how we spend our time as we travel through life. A big part of that journey has to do with the people we love.
The latest examination of the human heart from Curtis isn't as perfect as "Love Actually," but "About Time" has such a deep sweetness and touching tone it's a movie that's actually easy to love.
“About Time,” rated R for language, sexual content. Stars Domhnall Gleeson, Rachel McAdams, Bill Nighy, Lydia Wilson. Directed by Richard Curtis. Running time: 2 hours, 3 minutes. Grade: B+
TV and movie critic Rick Bentley can be reached at (559) 441-6355, firstname.lastname@example.org or @RickBentley1 on Twitter. Read his blog at fresnobeehive.com.