About Time is not Richard Curtis’s best. Now, that’s not a huge insult; among Richard Curtis’s writing and producing credits we count Four Weddings and a Funeral and all four Black Adder series, plus the shorts. And of course he directed Love Actually, which joined the Christmas viewing canon immediately upon release–no small feat. (But I hated Notting Hill, because it is garbage.)

A lot of the things about About Time are classic Richard Curtis: a young man, pleasingly awkward with girls, has moderate adventures, a quirky family and friend group, and an inexplicably posh background of which he seems unaware. But it lacks the magic of previous installments, perhaps because he’s not trying very hard any more, and peripheral characters are drawn with a crayon in the fist, not his trademark deft pencil. The voiceover is such a crutch, as well. Cute and reasonable in Bridget Jones’s Diary, perhaps necessary in Love Actually, totally played out and irritating here. Just write a film that shows us all we need to know.

Also this installment has actual magic. Tim (Domhnall Gleeson), our bumbling Curtis hero, can travel backwards in time. All the men in his family can, as his father (Bill Nighy) tells him on his twenty-first birthday. Naturally, Tim uses this talent to date ladies. This is how he bags Mary (Rachel McAdams). In fairness, he met her and hit it off in totally kosher manner the first time, and only lost her number through a rewriting of time in a generous impulse on behalf of his flatmate, the hilariously angry playwright Harry (Tom Hollander). Most of the time, his time-traveling and its concomitant superior knowledge manage not to be creepy. At its creepiest it allows him to zip back and unhook a bra without fumbling, and perhaps we can all be charitable there. Generally, however, he is trying to erase the embarrassment of others, which is laudable if unlikely.

Tim and Mary get together rather quickly and are adorable, to the extent that I thought she was headed for a rapid death when I checked how much time was left in the film. But the movie doesn’t go quite that cheap, though we do get to see Tim learn that his time-traveling eventually will require difficult, painful choices–if he prevents his sister’s car accident, his child might be a different child. The causality isn’t actually that carefully done, but since it doesn’t insist on that many rules, you can mostly let it go.

It’s not bad. Tim and Mary are more or less plausibly charming. Tim’s dad is regular Bill Nighy, which you probably enjoy. Tim’s mum, played by Lindsay Duncan, is just like all the characters Lindsay Duncan plays now: taciturn, rich but unpretentious, sometimes a bit sweary. Tim’s Uncle Desmond (Richard Cordery) is the best part, perhaps because we’ve not seen him before, and “dim but well-meaning” is so nice sometimes. The film goes badly wrong with Tim’s sister Kit Kat (Lydia Wilson), though, because she is a total disaster and no one notices for about a decade and a half, even though they are a relentlessly lovey-dovey family. They just think she’s adorable because she doesn’t wear shoes and can’t keep a job. So there’s that. Women can be self-destructive and still able to dress themselves, you know, or even read.

Director: Richard Curtis
Rating: R
Length: 123 minutes
Score: 3/5

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