Trying to get a new way to get across the “carpe diem” message, About Time is a sentimental and safe romantic comedy that surprisingly has no conflict. Conflict is one of the things that drives stories, but About Time features none of it. It’s too busy with its lead living happily and occasionally traveling back in time when it suits him, because he can do that. No, the time travel doesn’t really matter. It’s a hook with which little is done.
The lead is Tim (Domhnall Gleeson), a man who learns on his 21st birthday that all of the males in his family have the ability to travel through time. This includes his father (Bill Nighy), who claims to have read every book he would ever want to thanks to this ability. The limit to this power is that one can only travel back to instances in his own life, meaning nobody can kill Hitler. The future can, however, be changed, so one must be careful. Don’t worry, though, because nothing ever truly goes wrong and the film never even teases that permanent damage has been done. It’s too safe and sweet for that.
On a blind date — in a restaurant without lights served by blind waiters — Tim meets Mary (Rachel McAdams), with whom he instantly falls in love. Tim has been looking for love his entire life, he tells us through voiceover narration. He gets her number and says goodnight. But then he travels back in time to fix a mistake and doesn’t go to that dinner, meaning he never met her. This is fixed in the next few scenes, and before long, the two are in a loving, committed relationship.
About Time progresses simply from here and only rarely uses the time travel concept at this point. Tim almost forgets he has it at one point, and the film’s overall message involves living each day like it’s your last. If you guess Tim eventually decides that rewinding his life to fix mistakes sucks the joy out of it all, you’re not going to be surprised by this film. You can see it all coming from a mile away. This is a very easy movie to take in.
It is not, however, an easy one to watch and stay awake. That complete lack of conflict — or even motivation beyond “we’re in love; let’s do couple things for 90 more minutes” means that there’s very little reason to continue watching About Time. It’s not terribly compelling to see a couple’s life go almost perfectly for the entire time they’re together. The hook of the movie is that one of them can travel in time and that barely even plays into the second half of the picture. This is a snoozer if you’re even a little bit cynical.
If you’re not, though, you’re going to have a field day with About Time. This is a sweet, sentimental and sincere movie that doesn’t have any time or patience for anything that even comes remotely close to cynicism or negativity. Its target audience is composed of people who want to escape with two actors and their love for a couple of hours — people who don’t want to see any trouble befall them. It’s a hopelessly romantic movie and makes no bones about being exactly that. It doesn’t want to be anything else.
It does want to make you laugh, and if there’s one strength that it has — for those of you who need something more than pure love to drive a two-plus-hour movie — it’s the relatively consistent humor that it brings to the table. About Time is quite funny, and you will laugh a fair few times while it plays. It’s safe, easy humor, but laughter is laughter and About Time made me laugh. Saying more about the laughs would ruin them, but they’re constant enough to keep you awake if everything else is too dull.
Those who like doing so will absolutely love poking holes in the way time travel factors into the proceedings. The internal logic doesn’t really work, rules that were earlier established get broken later on without explanation, and it winds up creating plot holes and logistical issues. I wager that most people won’t care — the film isn’t About Time travel anyway — because the romance and Tim’s life revelations are what’s supposed to keep our attention, but time travel is a touchy subject and it irritates more people than you’d think (or hope) when it’s not treated seriously.
The jury’s still out on whether or not Domhnall Gleeson is a good enough actor to carry a serious drama, but for a fluffy rom-com he’s more than suitable. He’s charming and has decent comedic timing, making him perfect for this sort of role. Rachel McAdams is fine but doesn’t have much to work with. Bill Nighy is great as the unnamed father, while Lydia Wilson plays the off-the-walls sister well.
About Time is for those who want a two-hour escape from the problems of the real world, as it contains no problems or conflict of its own. For anyone wanting a compelling or convincing story, it falls flat, but for an unabashedly sincere romance, I suppose it does its job. It’s funny and sweet and really hard to get too worked up about. It has good actors in a simple, fluffy love story. There’s nothing much more to it than that. If this is your type of thing, you’ll love it. If you have an ounce of cynicism in your veins, skip it.