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"ABOUT TIME"
(2013) (Domhnall Gleeson, Bill Nighy) (R)

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QUICK TAKE:
Sci-Fi/Romantic Dramedy: After he discovers he can travel back in time like the rest of the men in his family, a young man uses that gift in hopes of making a better life for himself.
PLOT:
Tim (DOMHNALL GLEESON) is a 21-year-old lawyer who still lives at home with his Dad (BILL NIGHY), Mum (LINDSAY DUNCAN), somewhat eccentric sister, Kit Kat (LYDIA WILSON), and Uncle D (RICHARD CORDERY) who seems to be affected by the early stages of dementia. Following a disastrous New Year's Eve party where Tim failed to kiss a girl when given the chance, his dad informs him that all males in their family are able to travel back in time. Tim doesn't initially believe any of this, but takes advantage of this gift once he does by going back to that party and taking a different course of action.

He tries the same the following summer when his sister's pretty friend, Charlotte (MARGOT ROBBIE), comes to stay with them for a several month visit. Despite the new tool in his romantic arsenal, however, he's unable to get Charlotte to fall for him. After she leaves, Tim moves to London, gets a job working at a law firm with fellow barrister Rory (JOSHUA McGUIRE), and rents a room from caustic playwright Harry (TOM HOLLANDER).

While out for the night with his friend Jay (WILL MERRICK), Tim ends up meeting book publisher reader Mary (RACHEL McADAMS), but inadvertently scuttles their budding romance by going back in time to help fix a disastrous debut for Harry's new play. He finally gets her interested in him -- using information he gleans from additional encounters with her before heading back in time -- and they end up married and with a baby.

Over all of that time, Tim continues to use his gift for his advantage in various situations, as well as in hoping to help others. But in doing so, he learns that his travels have repercussions he wasn't expecting, while also learning that he can't or shouldn't fix everything.

OUR TAKE: 5.5 out of 10
Unlike my lovely wife -- and many other women for that matter who can't seem to get enough of them -- I'm not a huge fan of romantic comedies. I completely get their appeal, but the fact that so many such genre films follow the exact same formula and thus include a fair amount of similar material means the vast majority not only come off as predictable, but also often trite, repetitive and thus, well, rather dull and decidedly less than romantic (at least to these masculine eyes).

That said, I like when filmmakers manage to put a twist of some sort on the genre's trappings. "(500) Days of Summer" did that a few years back by jumping back and forth and all around its main characters and their interactions, thus showing a somewhat more realistic portrayal of couples and relationships. Many, many moons before that, "Groundhog Day" did the same by having its protagonist repeat the same titular day over and over again, all while trying to win over a woman, only to have his progress erased by the time Sonny & Cher serenaded him from bed each "new" morning.

Thus, when I heard the plot of "About Time," I was intrigued. And that's not only due to it working with a genre element near and dear to my screenwriting heart -- that being time travel -- but also because it was coming from the hands of writer/director Richard Curtis. He's the filmmaker who made one of the few "standard" rom-coms I've really liked over the past decade, 2003's "Love Actually." It doesn't hurt that he also penned the likes of "Four Weddings and a Funeral," "Notting Hill" and "Bridget Jones's Diary."

Its premise is fairly simple. A 21-year-old lawyer (Domhnall Gleeson, who grows on you as the story unfolds) is informed by his father (the always delightful Bill Nighy) that like all of the men in their family, the now adult Tim can travel back in time. The young man doesn't believe it, yet soon enough he's making amends for earlier botching a chance to kiss a girl on New Year's Eve. But he also learns that just having the ability to learn from his mistakes and go back and try new tactics in the same situation doesn't necessarily translate into landing the first real girl of his dreams (Margo Robbie).

He eventually moves to London, rents a flat from a caustic playwright (a funny Tom Hollander) and meets and falls for a reader for a book publisher (Rachel McAdams). Not surprisingly, he uses his temporal powers to try to help the former and romantically land the latter, with to-be-expected funny results and further complications. The latter also applies to his need to try to help his troubled sister (Lydia Wilson) as well as their father when he takes ill.

The film has its heart in the right place and features more than enough charm, wit and some touching moments (most of them featuring the interaction between Gleeson and Nighy) to get by. Yet, something about all of those elements and plot threads coming together just doesn't work as well as planned. It's certainly not awful, but the collective whole ends up being far less than the individual parts. It also doesn't help that the plot is too similar at times to the far superior "Groundhog Day" that worked not only as a unique rom-com, but also something of an existential examination of the human condition (and featured a fabulous deadpan meets manic performance by Bill Murray).

And then there are the unavoidable time travel conundrums that could prove distracting to some viewers. While Nighy's character states at one point that they've yet to experience any "butterfly effect" problems (meaning one minor change in the past having massive ripple impact heading through the future), the story otherwise ignores trying to make the time travel play out "realistically." The only rule they have to follow is that one can't go back and make a change in the past lest any child they'd end up having after that (who's already around in the present) would end up changed.

While the pic has the right intentions and features important life messages such as not dwelling on the past, living and enjoying every day to its fullest and so on, I just wish it had come off better as a whole. It's as if some parts either needed to be jettisoned or more fully fleshed out as the end results feels uneven in terms of story and pacing. Perhaps my expectations were set too high considering how much I enjoyed "Love Actually" and thus imagined what the filmmaker might do by throwing a sci-fi element into the rom-com mix. What's present is okay. I just wish someone could have traveled -- or perhaps will head there at some point -- back in time and corrected the things that prevent "About Time" from being great. As it stands, it rates as a 5.5 out of 10.




Reviewed September 26, 2013 / Posted November 1, 2013


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