'About Time' explores love and the spectacular now

05:00 AM, Oct 30, 2013

Rachel McAdams, left, and Domhnall Gleeson star in the time-travel rom-com 'About Time.' Murray Close, Universal Pictures/


Written By by Claudia Puig, USA TODAY

If time travel were possible, who among us would pass up a chance to revisit a deceased family member, correct past mistakes or help someone in need?

Who could resist altering history, even a little bit?

About Time (*** out of four; rated R; opens Friday in select cities, Nov. 8 nationwide) is a time-travel rom-com with more than romance and comedy on its mind. While it’s decidedly low-tech (returning to a previous era is achieved by closing one’s eyes in a dark closet, and clenching one’s fists), it adds an imaginative element to a charming and touching story.

Domhnall Gleeson plays the likable, ginger-haired Tim Lake, who initially seems to have no more pressing issue on his mind than finding a girlfriend.

He comes from a loving, bohemian family. Bill Nighy plays his wryly funny father, Lindsay Duncan his droll mother. Tim is close to his kooky sister, Kit Kat (Lydia Wilson), and his affable but rather daft Uncle D (Richard Cordery).

Tim is quick to point out that he had a happy childhood. And why not? He grew up in a gorgeous seaside estate in Cornwall, England, embraced by a warmhearted family.

But things are not as carefree as they appear.

On Tim’s 21st birthday his father informs him of a rare trait all adult men in his family possess: the ability to travel back in time. Tim understandably scoffs at the notion and its genetic roots — until he goes into a closet and balls his fists.

Boom! He’s transported to a New Year’s Eve where he erases the humiliation of failing to kiss an eager girl at a party.

Soon, Tim packs off to London to practice law and rent a room from snarky playwright Harry (Tom Hollander).

Shortly thereafter he meets Mary (Rachel McAdams). Then he “re-meets” her, perfecting their “chance” encounter. Messing with the time-space continuum does, however, have its limitations. Milestones such as births and deaths must remain intact. Temporal refinement is limited to lesser incidents.

Tim and Mary fall in love, marry and have a few children. While they’re happy, family ordeals loom that give the story its emotional heft.

A glitch in the screenplay, though, is that the Lake men don’t tell the women they love about their special gift. It seems oddly sexist, or at least dishonest. In the case of Tim’s parents, one would think his astute mother would have guessed her husband’s secret over the course of their long marriage. But that’s a small quibble in the larger scheme of a heartfelt, if somewhat shapeless, film.

What keeps it from straying into cloying sitcom turf is the presence of real-life problems and issues, and the comforting and humorous manner in which director Richard Curtis tackles love, sorrow and death. He also paints a wonderfully tender father-son relationship between Nighy and Gleeson.

To Curtis’ credit, he doesn’t turn time travel into a sci-fi gimmick. It provides a means to explore how to make the most of our lives — in the present. The film also deals poignantly with learning to let go.

Curtis has a way of making this potentially sentimental fare winning by infusing it with sardonic, deprecating wit and soulful emotion, just as he did with Love Actually and Four Weddings and a Funeral.

What results is amusing, gently entertaining and might induce a tear or two.