The 400-Word Review: About Time
By Sean Collier
November 11, 2013
About Time is a charming and enjoyable film that will easily serve as date-night entertainment. On the strength of two likable leads with genuine chemistry and a game supporting cast, it’s often funny and occasionally touching.
It also doesn’t make a lick of sense. To those looking for a movie after dinner, About Time will be a happy diversion. To those looking more critically at it, it’s a cautionary example against reaching beyond genre boundaries.
Tim (Domhnall Gleeson) is something of a sad sack, too awkward to take charge of his formative years. On his 21st birthday, though, his father (Bill Nighy) reveals the family secret: male members of the clan have limited time-travel abilities. A quick tutorial and rundown of the rules is all that separates Tim from taking control of his destiny, quite literally.
After he gets the hang of things, he uses his powers (and attendant confidence; after all, if you could instantly erase any faux pas, you’d be cocky too) to woo Mary (Rachel McAdams,) whom he meets-cute at a restaurant ... before inadvertently erasing the evening later on. Time-travel problems, right?
The setup is fertile soil for humor and the sort of hopeful identification expected in a romcom. But it’s an alarmingly — one might say disturbingly — big premise to layer on a mostly domestic story. Tim uses his abilities for self-improvement and manipulation of his situations, but doesn’t bother to consider the ramifications of them on any deep level; we’re asked to not think very hard about them, either.
It’s a movie, right? Except that the premise reduces Mary — as well as Tim’s mother, sister, and any other females that fly too near Tim’s family — to witless pawns being manipulated and reconfigured at will by the time-skipping boys. When Tim attempts to track down Mary after erasing their initial introduction, he doesn’t win her over on his own merits; he uses information gained from quick time jumps to effortlessly impress her. It’s supposed to be charming; it comes off as creepy.
By the end, About Time becomes too wrapped in sentimentality to notice that many of the rules it set earlier have been broken and adjusted as the plot requires. Criticizing time-travel movies for logical gaps is a fool’s errand, but a few are awfully bad here. About Time is still pleasant and funny; just be sure not to think about it.
Sean Collier is the Associate Editor of Pittsburgh Magazine and a member of the Broadcast Film Critics Association. Read more from Sean at pittsburghmagazine.com/afterdark