Romantic, radiant 'About Time'
Even the most hardened cynics must admit: It has been a high-water season for movies. Between Gravity, 12 Years a Slave, All Is Lost, and Captain Phillips, the words masterpiece and four stars are being bestowed as promiscuously as Halloween candy.
About Time may not be a masterpiece, but it's a superb achievement nonetheless. Warm, appealing, and uncommonly intelligent, this unconventional film has its own modesty and disarming earnestness. It would be a shame if About Time were overlooked. It deserves an audience as big as its own spirit.
As it opens, Tim Lake (Domhnall Gleeson) is living at a huge, pink seaside manse in Cornwall with his parents (Bill Nighy and Lindsay Duncan) and sister Kit Kat (Lydia Wilson).
Desperate for a girlfriend, but, according to his own voice-over description, "too tall, too skinny, and too orange," Tim is informed by his father about a long-held family secret: Once they turn 21, men in the family acquire the ability to travel back in time, a power that comes with its own arcane logic and scientific rules. ("You can't kill Hitler or shag Helen of Troy," Dad explains dryly.)
But Tim can go back to fateful moments in his own life and become more suave, sexy, sensitive. His first act is to return to last night's New Year's Eve party and do something kind.
That gesture introduces viewers to the gentle and unfailingly compassionate gestalt of the film, written and directed by Richard Curtis (Notting Hill, Love Actually). The gawky, ginger-haired Gleeson - familiar to most viewers as Bill Weasley from the Harry Potter movies - is adorkable as a perpetually lovelorn guy who may not be above conniving self-interest, but never succumbs to selfishness or cruelty.
When Tim, now in London, meets fetching American Mary (Rachel McAdams), things ratchet up. Curtis manages to throw some feints and digressions into the works, turning About Time into something altogether more moving than a conventional rom-com. In fact, he has made a fam-com, a meditation on fatherhood, connection, sacrifice, and enduring love that sneaks up on the audience and blooms, like a slow-burning catch in the throat.
That's not to say About Time doesn't hit all the expected romantic pleasure centers. The locales are fabulous, as is the most gorgeous mess of a wedding ever filmed. The script is witty and observant, and the soundtrack includes choice Nick Cave, Ron Sexsmith, and others.
Tim's chronological origami folds in on itself a few too many times, and Curtis seems stymied by how to end his movie, but despite those flaws, About Time is something rare and radiant - a cozy, escapist love story suffused with ache and hard-earned, quiet wisdom.
About Time *** 1/2 (out of four)
Directed by Richard Curtis. With Domhnall Gleeson, Rachel McAdams, and Bill Nighy. Distributed by Universal Pictures.
Running time: 2 hours, 3 mins.
Parent's guide: R (obscenity and some sexual content)
Showing at: Ritz East, AMC Neshaminy, Regal Warrington, Regal Brandywine, Carmike Ritz Voorhees