“About Time” finds writer-director Richard Curtis confronting the deepest and most pervasive of philosophical dilemmas. You don’t expect the man behind “Love Actually” to produce a cinematic exploration of the burdens in time’s passage and the inexorable lure of the past, but here it is.
And if this isn’t exactly a complete movie from a narrative standpoint, if there isn’t much in the way of a dramatic arc, it still deserves admiration for endeavoring to confront a subject that cuts to the heart of the human condition.
The movie stars Domhnall Gleeson as Tim, who learns of an unusual family quirk on his 21st birthday. The men in his clan have been bestowed with the unlikely gift of time travel. They can go back in time, never forward, to any moment they’ve experienced in the past — from five minutes ago to childhood.
The rest of the film examines how Tim uses this mixed blessing; manufacturing things just so to meet the woman of his dreams (Rachel McAdams), helping his sick sister Kit Kat (Lydia Wilson) and spending more time with his dad (Bill Nighy). Of course, the concept complicates Tim’s reality in darker ways as well; you can’t mess with the universe and get away unscathed.
This is clearly an intensely personal endeavor for the filmmaker, so it’s no surprise that the movie is bathed in a white, angelic glow. The characters are all pleasant, appealing and frequently misty-eyed as the picture determinedly opts for sentimentality.
“About Time” doesn’t have much of a story and there isn’t much in the way of compelling content: Tim simply ages, utilizing his special power in different ways as the movie opts for a pop-philosophical consideration of what it means to truly live your life. Curtis doesn’t look at the ramifications of time travel beyond its impact on Tim’s life. There are no “Back to the Future”-style wrinkles in the system.
Universal Pictures is releasing this movie but it isn’t your everyday studio drama. It has serious ambitions and scenes imbued with the strong emotions derived from life’s great joys and burdens. But “About Time” aims for the heartstrings so resolutely that it ultimately leaves much less of an emotional impact than it should.
Two and a half stars
Directed by Richard Curtis
Starring Domhnall Gleeson, Rachel McAdams, Bill Nighy