Tuesday, November 5, 2013

No Time for Love, Dr. Jones!

Movies will always be great date options. It might seem cliched to suggest to a new couple to go out for "diner and a movie", but to be fair, movies have the power to create a steady conversation that will last well into the dessert course. For that reason alone, the romance genre often has a shelf life that often exceeds most other style of film. Every Valentines day, movie studios pump out whatever romantic tale they can weave, because even if the movie itself is crap IT WILL MAKE MONEY. With every poll indicating that women make more decisions about what movies to see, there's no reason for studios not to make more of The Notebook or Gone with the Wind or Definitely, Maybe. That said, romance itself can be a bit repetitive. Many follow the same tropes, have the same conclusions and even star the same actors. So it's nice to see the industry try a twist on the all-too-familiar formula.When the director of Love Actually tosses time travel into the mix with his usual strengths, it can't NOT be worth a look. Time travel is cooler than ever now, with Looper, Doctor Who and the video game Braid using the plot device to increasingly-effective results. So when it comes to more traditional romance, how does it work out?
About Time: proof that Gingers can get hotties too.
In About Time, aspiring lawyer Tim (Domhnall Gleeson) is a normal young adult, who learns from his reserved father (Bill Nighy) that the men in their family have a unique ability; they can travel back in time to rewitness or change past events in their lives. With his newly-discovered talents, Tim decides he is going to find the love of his life, whom after some searching turns out to be Mary (Rachel McAdams). Using his gift, he adjusts any errors he makes in the wooing process, and he and Mary start a long and happy relationship with one another. The more Tim travels, however, the more complicated his simple life becomes, and soon he learns that not even time travel can fix every problem he wishes he could solve.
How many times has she gotten married, now?
The best thing About Time brings to the table is its cast. Not many people realize who Gleeson is (he played Bill Weasley in the last two Harry Potter movies, and he had a small role in Dredd), but he is a talented actor who does his absolute best to lead this film. He might not have been the best fit - he doesn't have the looks for the kind of role that would have gone to Hugh Grant over a decade ago - but he perfectly emulates the kind of nervous energy we've expected from British romance story in the past decade. He's definitely got the makings of an up-and-coming actor. McAdams, the other lead, is a natural at the romance game, and it's no surprise that she charms her way through the film so easily. But like much of her usual work, there isn't a whole lot of variation; she's exactly what you would expect from a love interest in any of her previous efforts. However, like many comedies, the About Time is owned by the supporting cast. There is a strong group here, especially Lydia Wilson as Tim's flighty sister Kit Kat, but also Tom Hollander as a malcontent playwright, and Joshua McGuire as Tim's equally-nervous co-worker. But Nighy outdoes everybody else and is of course wonderful - par for the course - and if the film had followed his own time-traveling adventures, I'm sure none of us would be disappointed. Nighy brings sophistication and charm to even his worst roles - I'm looking at you, Total Recall and Jack the Giant Slayer - and in doing so brings up the quality of any movie by his mere presence.
Hey, now.
Unfortunately, that's just about all About Time can be bothered to get right. As much as everybody and their dog adores Love Actually, it's easy to forget that classic came out over a decade ago, and while director Richard Curtis has been working as a writer since, his only other directorial effort was the little-seen The Boat That Rocked, which also received mixed reviews. His rustiness is readily apparent, as scenes run over-long, humor relies too much on awkward situations instead of actually-funny dialogue, and there is a rampant over-abundance of voice-overs by Gleeson. There ARE some funny bits, especially those that show Tim going back in time over and over again to fix the same problem, but those genuinely humorous moments are the exception, not the rule. About Time skates by as much as it can on natural charm, but make no mistake; this movie has more than its fair share of issues.
Gleeson gets a few pointers about being a great British actor.
About Time also suffers from one major problem; its time travel subplot doesn't make any sense. I know that sounds a bit odd after I somewhat defended Looper's nonchalance in its utter lack of scientific logic, but for the most part last year's thriller at least followed its own (admittedly nonsensical) rules. In comparison, About Time blindly adds in the almost-magical element and for a while it's merely an amusing diversion. But as time goes on, the audience is spoon-fed additional rules that change the entire nature of the plot device, only to break those rules down the line without consequence. It just seems like Curtis and his crew didn't know to do with this new element (much like most directors and 3D), and the result is that it really doesn't come off as anything other than a gimmick.
Guy gets girl... snore...
There are moments in About Time that are genuinely sweet, raucously funny, and cause many an audience member to shed a few tears. It's a shame however that these bits add up to about twenty minutes of a full two hour movie. Richard Curtis just can't pull this little bit of a mess together, which is too bad since there was a ton of potential present in every facet of this production. But then again, this is what movie dates were created for. Despite its flaws, About Time is a near-perfect movie to take your significant other to, if for no reason that options are fairly sparse. Otherwise, there's no pressing need to see this. Maybe it'll find a second life on DVD, but for now there are way too many better options for you to give this British RomCom the time of day.

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