On New Year's Day in the year in which he turns 21, Tim's (Domhnall Gleeson) father (Bill Nighy) sits him down and delivers a startling revelation: all the men in the family, dating back for generations, have been able to travel through time. There are some limitations to this power, of course, but essentially, Tim has the ability to jump back to any moment in his life and do as he please. It's a remarkable skill that allows the awkward, lanky lawyer an opportunity for a second chance at some of his most horrifying experiences (most of them involving interactions with women). Soon afterward, he meets Mary (Rachel McAdams) who will become the love of his life after some embarrassing stops and starts and before long, Tim's ability takes on all new meaning as he discovers his time travel no longer impacts only him but also his wife and kids.
About Time has been billed as a romantic comedy with a twist and while that's not entirely incorrect, it's only part of the equation. Don't get me wrong, the quirky/awkward romance between Gleeson and McAdams that masquerades as the film's central focus is strong and if that's all the film gave us it would be a breath of fresh air within a genre (the date night romantic comedy) that has become so stale as to almost completely die out. But at its heart, About Time is much more concerned with relationships, particularly that between father and son. And on this front, the film leaves its true mark. Gleeson and Nighy exhibit an easy, compelling chemistry that immediately draws the viewer into their unique relationship and gives the film an emotional power that is both delightful and heartbreaking at the same time. To put it simply, I would happily watch a film that was dedicated entirely to the Gleeson-McAdams relationship but I would just as happily sacrifice the entirety of this plot line in order to get more of the Gleeson-Nighy plotline. And that, my friends, is saying something.
Writer/Director Richard Curtis (Love Actually, Notting Hill) has a very distinct, simple style that is on full display here. He sets the stage, he puts his actors into great positions within the setting, and then he lightly hits the beats to keep the film moving. Little time is spent on the complexities of the plot (particularly the hows and whys of the time travel element) but this just allows the film to focus on what it values rather than bogging down in the details that ultimately don't matter all that much. The cast members are all essentially playing themselves (or versions of themselves) but this sense of realism/familiarity leads to a comfortability on screen that works brilliantly with Curtis' measured but leisurely pacing. That's a fancy way of saying that when it's at its best, About Time makes you forget you're watching a movie and lets you think you're watching real people in real relationships interact.
None of the performances within About Time are likely to earn awards attention but all of them are strong and worth mentioning. Gleeson, whom I only recognized from smaller roles, is doing his best Hugh Grant impression but he does so to great affect and with tremendous poise. Nighy reminds us that when he's given something to work with, he's a bloody brilliant performer whose timing is nearly unparalleled. And McAdams is, well, McAdams, as charming and enchanting as ever. (My bias towards Rachel McAdams probably knows no bounds so perhaps I cannot be trusted on this front.) The supporting players are all very Curtis-ian and each gets a moment to shine, often in some of the most impactful moments of the film. Moreover, Curtis highlights each cast member's strengths wonderfully and puts them on display with a subtle flair that works perfectly with the film's narrative.
On top of all that, the core message of About Time is refreshingly pure and straight forward. I won't call it so much "life changing" as "life-affirming", which honestly left me feeling a bit lighter upon exiting the theater than I was when I walked in. Just an all-around beautiful film. Grade: A (Rated R for some language and sexuality that is more suggested than displayed. Honestly a very light R rating.)