If there were any doubt left in my heart about my status as a sentimental fool, “About Time” stomped it out.
I generally get my back up about stories in which characters have unexplained magical powers. But as he did with the unconventional, if non-magic, “Love Actually,” British writer-director Richard Curtis got past all my defenses. “About Time” met all the bottom-line criteria for my favorite kind of movie: It made me laugh, made me cry and made me think.
Curtis again turns unlikely characters and events into a story grounded by insight and life wisdom about the many faces of love: romantic love, sibling love, friendship love and especially love between parent and child.
Meet Tim (Domhnall Gleeson, son of actor Brendan Gleeson). Tall, thin and socially awkward, Tim turns 21 as the movie opens and his dad (Bill Nighy), a retired professor of literature, spills the big secret: The men in this family can travel backward in time. All they have to do is go into a dark space, clench their fists and imagine the time and place they want to go. They can rewrite the future in small, personal ways.
Tim decides to use his powers to snag a girlfriend.
If this were a Hollywood film, not a British one, it might become the silly, randy, romantic comedy I was expecting, packed with juvenile jokes about sex.
And it kind of starts that way as tongue-tied Tim makes a lot of missteps on the road to love. Bad introduction? Try again. Not satisfied with first-time lovemaking? Third time’s a charm. Disastrous meeting of the girlfriend’s parents? Back in a minute.
But the movie, though adult in language and frank about sex, doesn’t snicker. Emotionally, it’s played for real. As Tim uses his powers to seal the deal with girlfriend Mary (Rachel McAdams), you watch him slowly mature and look beyond himself.
A scene in which he crosses paths with an old flame (gorgeous Margot Robbie), after falling in love with Mary, is one example. Helping his landlord, a playwright, on opening night is another. Later he wants to help his offbeat sister Kit-Kat (Lydia Wilson), who’s struggling with an abusive boyfriend and low self-esteem.
With open-faced, unconventional leading-man looks, Gleeson is a charmer. His smile will melt more than a few hearts. McAdams is likely to have the same powers on guys in the audience as Mary falls — twice — for Tim.
I had a lot of fun getting to know the unconventional characters Tim runs with: Harry, the cynical playwright (Tom Hollander); a clueless but kind law-office associate (Joshua McGuire); school chum Jay (Will Merrick); strange Uncle D (Richard Cordery).
Most gratifying was watching the relationship between Tim and his father, already close at the movie’s start, grow and deepen as the years pass. Nighy and Gleeson do a great job of handling moments of great sentiment without letting them turn too sticky.
What would you do if you could erase and correct certain moments of a messy life? Tim learns gradually to live in a new way, and the explanation of that is what hangs with me several days after a preview screening.
“About Time” is an affirmation of the joy and beauty of life. Cynics won’t like it. Action addicts might be bored. But, as with “Love Actually,” this sentimental fool just wants to watch it again. And again.
* * * * *
Quality: Three and a half stars (out of four)
Director: Richard Curtis
Stars: Domhnall Gleeson, Rachel McAdams, Bill Nighy
Rating: R for language, some sexual content
Running time: 2 hours, 3 minutes
Theaters: Oakview, Westroads, Aksarben, Twin Creek