Ooo I love it! What a wonderful, ridiculous, frothy palaver of a movie. Abandon all cynicism, surrender and be swept up, because few films have the capacity for joy that About Time can bring. The topic is love, because love is the loveliest of all things. It’s also About Time travel, but only loosely. Richard Curtis directs without caution for the ultimate romantic fantasy, somehow thriving upon the waves of crazy ambition. There isn’t much else like it.
If you’re making a film about love, let us feel its warmth. I’ve no time (pun?) for something like Moulin Rouge!, only discussing love as an abstract, or the manipulation of The Notebook, which will extract tears with a syringe if it has to. Richard Curtis has never skimped on the amore – whether it’s quadrupling weddings, literalising movie romance, or packing in as many versions of love as will fit in a feature. About Time is where Curtis has been headed his entire career, the final acceptance that love is all you need, and all you’re getting (actually).
So the alternative title could be “Love is Nice”. This bloke called Tim (Domhnall Gleeson) discovers he can travel back in time, and instantly decides to use his powers for love. Complications eventually ensue, but the story is mostly about how nice it is to be in love with Rachel McAdams. The essence of drama is traditionally conflict, but it seems an alternative is gigantic portions of love. For so much of the film nothing bad happens, and yet somehow it doesn’t matter.
The film has many aspects of a Woody Allen fantasy, in particular the later works where another actor is playing the Allen role. Domhnall Gleeson in his ordinary life is very Irish, but here portrays a better Hugh Grant than Grant himself – making him ginger is a wonderful addition to the persona. He also claims the title of most irresponsible time-traveller in all of literature, lacking even a basic understanding of temporal cause and effect. But don’t be alarmed, even his most spectacular disasters are righted with a minimum of fuss, because who needs misfortune when you have love.
Bill Nighy, I love you, your sparkling eyes promising disreputable adventure. Love Actually won him a BAFTA, but the performance here is yet greater – just as spirited, but more grounded, more heartfelt. The trailers don’t do justice to how perfectly judged the reveal scene is, Nighy squirming enigmatically as if daring disbelief. Meanwhile, Rachel McAdams is the best in Hollywood at this sort of role – Marilyn Monroe crossed with Helen of Troy crossed with the fluffiest little bunny rabbit. Rom-com fans should seek out 2010’s Morning Glory, an outstanding McAdams performance deserving of greater recognition.
It’s about love, in case you didn’t get that. It is the Platonic Ideal of a Richard Curtis movie, which for some readers may be a terrifying notion. I wouldn’t worry, it’s a rare and damaged soul that could watch About Time and not be charmed at least a little. It’s all over the place, scenes don’t work, characters are underdeveloped, it breaks fundamental rules of drama. Those are the negatives, crammed into the final paragraph because they are completely unimportant. A masterpiece, despite everything.