' ' Cinema Romantico: About Time

Tuesday, December 03, 2013

About Time

Andrew Bowler’s 2011 Oscar nominated live action short film “Time Freak” involved an insecure inventor who manages to build a time machine only to utilize that time machine solely to continually travel back to the day before in a desperate attempt to right a series of social gaffes only to make them worse. It seemed such an accurate representation, particularly in light of our current culture. Oh, we like to imagine that having access to a time machine would yield travel of noble or historical or scientific purposes, but, c’mon, let’s be honest, the real results would likely be much more small-scale than far-reaching. This is the truth “About Time” knows, a time travel movie less concerned with The Butterfly Effect (glossed over in a mere line) than Carpe Diem.

Having turned twenty-one, Tim (Domhnall Gleeson), evoking a more charming Gareth Keenan, is summoned by his Dad (Bill Nighy, droll but heartwarming) and advised of the ol’ family secret – that is, the men can travel in time. Why just the men and not the women? Because this is Hollywood, you sillyhead. The specifics of it are quite simple – you go to a confined space, clench your fists, think of where you want to go in your past, and you’re there. There are a few no-no’s (you can’t travel into the future), of course, and Dad quickly dismisses any notion of making yourself rich by asking “Do you know any happy rich people?” Good enough for us. We move on. So naturally Tim wonders how his Dad has made use of this ability, and your feelings on his response will likely go a long way in determining your affection for the picture as a whole.

Reading. His Dad has employed time travel to read (and re-read) all manner of books. I can sense guffawing, but I smiled. Tell me right now I have the ability to travel in time and I’ll knock out the entire Jean Harlow collection in one (consistently repeated) day. That doesn’t sound like thunder, that sounds like heaven. Ah, but this is a Richard Curtis film, and so rather than follow Dad’s footsteps and climb the tree of knowledge, Tim tells us in voiceover “For me, it was always going to be about love.” Enter: The Rom Com Utility-Woman, Rachel McAdams.

She is Mary, a Kate Moss devotee (a subplot crying out for more exploration, and a Kate Moss cameo), who meets cute with Tim on a literal blind date, a sequence sure to make the audience grinches hurl their gruel at the screen. He falls for her, she for him, and then it inevitably goes (slightly) wrong when Tim goes back in time to aid his playwrite roommate (a riotously moody Tom Hollander). So, he must take steps to re-correct his relationship, and here, I am pained to admit, is where my mind rebelled.

I’m not talking about plausibility of time travel (which I've covered) but the ethical standards of Tim manipulating the evolution of this relationship. Granted, he and Mary meet cute naturally, which is to say in advance of Tim’s time travel manipulations, but still……I could not shake the thought Mary was, in some respects, a rag doll of the plot, made to live her life strictly in accordance with the way Tim wanted to live his life. She has thoughts and feelings and Kate Moss obsessions, and I sincerely wish more consideration would have been paid to them.

Nevertheless, “About Time” is really intended as nothing beyond a three-course meal of dessert, dessert and dessert. Its toughest bit of story involves Tim’s sister, Kit Kat, The Purple Clad Pixie Girl (Lydia Wilson), who falls into a vaguely defined bad relationship starts drinking too much and taking drugs that we never actually see her take which eventually lands her in the hospital. This, however, is more or less resolved in the span of a beside intervention in montage form, and this is okay because the aim here is not to roam in the valleys but to focus on and climb the peaks.

"About Time's" central subject is but an unambiguous allegory for choosing not to wallow in the mire, to see the beauty in the every day, to appreciate the sanctity of breath. And that is why this fluffiest of films actually left me reeling with very real pangs of sadness. Fairytales can be sad too, and while "About Time" makes a generally delightful argument to seize the day, it also reminds us that when life's most precious moments are gone, they're gone.

Even if you can travel back in time, you still eventually run out of it.


Mette said...

I cannot wait to see About Time. From the first time I had seen the trailer, I knew I had to see it. Nice review!

Derek Armstrong said...

I'm glad you seemed to have gotten slightly more out of it than I did. I actually was pretty pleased with it upon leaving the theater, but then wrote myself into a mildly negative review of it in the course of a lengthy blog post. The Rachel McAdams character is of course the film's biggest problem, not only how passive she is in the function of the narrative, but also -- why Kate Moss?? Anyway, I explore my concerns at length in my post if you want to check it out. Nice review.

Nick Prigge said...

Mette: It's certainly a film for certain people. And I'm inclined to say people who like the trailer will probably like the film itself.

Vance: I liked the Kate Moss thing. I did. It suggested a......deeper, unique layer. I just wish we could have SEEN that layer. I get the sense there was a lot left on the cutting room floor with this one for the sake of running time.