Tuesday, November 5, 2013

About Time [2013]

MPAA (R)  ChicagoTribune (3 Stars)  RE.com (2 1/2 Stars)  AVClub (B-)  Fr. Dennis (2 stars)

IMDb listing
ChicagoTribune (M. Phillips) review
RE.com (S. Wloszczyna) review
AVClub (A.A. Dowd) review

About Time [2013] (written and directed by Richard Curtis) turns out to be IMHO a surprisingly flat romantic comedy even though it involves the generally sure fire "wouldn't it be nice..." device of having one or another character being able to "travel in time."  For "wouldn't it be nice..." to be able to go back to one or another moment in one's life to "fix" (unsay, undo, prevent...) something?  Yet in this film, the potentialities (for good and for ill) of this remarkable (and potentially remarkably practical) superpower remain surprisingly unexplored.

Tim (played by Domhnall Gleesen) is introduced to us as a deathly shy/awkward 21 year-old son of an upper-middle-class to modest-gentry family living at the family's manor house somewhere out at the far south-western edge of England in Cornwall (Incidentally, I've kinda wanted to visit Cornwall because of its remoteness.  The King Arthur legends took place in those "rather remote..." parts of England).  Returning to the story ... Tim's father (played actually remarkably well by Bill Nighy) had been a literature professor at some nondescript college somewhere in England had decided at 50 to retire to said family manor to spend his time with his family.  It was kind of a luxury but the family had some money and his father had clearly (and IMHO quite wisely) decided that chasing after a career (as a literature prof at a not particularly important college or university) wasn't going to give him happiness.

The story begins on the first New Years after Tim's 21st birthday.  New Years comes and passes.  And perhaps typical form Tim "blows it" by not kissing the smiling girl of his age who clearly had lined herself-up to stand right next to him as New Years was about to come, instead choosing to "shake her hand."  Tim realized almost immediately that he had done something stupidly wrong and that he had needlessly hurt this girl who may have been as little interested in him as he in her, but JUST WANTED TO BE KISSED on New Years.  But sigh ... such is the often quite painful life of a painfully awkward geek.

Well the next day and perhaps for motives completely unrelated to Tim's little failure at said party, Tim's father chooses to set Tim down in a backroom / study for a chat.  Thoughts of "Oh boy, what did I do now...?" could have been running through Tim's head at this point.  Yes, he did knock over some plates at the party.  Yes, he didn't kiss the girl.  Yes, he might have done any number of other socially awkward things the night before.  Or perhaps it was something else that he did.  BUT ... Tim's father takes the conversation in a completely different direction:

He tells him that "It's time."  "For what?"  "Time to tell you a family secret."  And the secret was ... that for whatever reason, "the men in the family have this gift of being able to travel back in time."  Here Tim reacts as most of us would react: "Dad, this is beginning of some really strange joke."  "But it's not."  "Even if this were possilbe, which it isn't..." "But it is ..." "How would one do it?"

Tim's father explains.  It's not as if they could go back to any time.  They couldn't go back to the time of the dinosaurs or to Julius Ceasar or whatever.  Neither could they go into future.  BUT they could go back to a particular moment in their lives.  "How?"  "Well go to a closed dark space, close the door, clench your fists and think of a time that you'd like to go back to ... and ... you'll be there."

Well, Tim has an obvious time to go back to test this out.  He goes into a wardrobe, closes the door, clenches his fists and wishes that he could go back to a few minutes before New Years the night before.  And boom, there he is.  He happily avoids running into the plates that he ran into before, goes to the place where he was standing that night before just before midnight (and watches the girl who had come up to stand so next time him the night before do the same now AND just as just as New Years had struck, HE KISSES HER.  She smiles a big smile, he smiles.  And it's done!  Tim goes back to the closet, closes the door, clenches his fists, thinks of the conversation that he's just had with his dad about all of this and ... boom ... he returns back to talk to his dad about this: "This is going to be a very complicated year, dad."  "It's going to be a very complicated life, son."

His dad shares with him a few points of advice ... not to use this ability for financial gain ("I've never known anyone who was truly happy with money.") not to use it for to put off decisions ("Look at ... <name of random uncle> ... who never amounted to anything") and life goes on.

Okay ... how would you use this ability?  That's obviously the central question of the film.  Tim uses this, of course for the sake of love.  And it does help him get the girl-friend and later wife, Mary (played by Rachel McAdams) eho he falls in love with.  But truth be told, her performance throughout the film is rather flat.  She too comes across as a rather anxious person.  So even though he does "win her" as it were, one gets the sense that after meeting 4 or 5 Marys (and "crashing and burning" 4 or 5 times) he probably would have found if not this Mary then someone very much like her anyway.

PERHAPS that is the point here, that Tim's sudden discovery that he had this ability of being able "to go back in time" was really unnecessary APART FROM PERHAPS giving him the confidence to try in the first place.   Anyway, much ensues ... but truth be told, I would have had far more fun (and yes _positive_ fun) with this ability than poor schlop Tim did.

Probably the best part of the movie involves Tim's relationship with his father as both he and his father realize that his father has to die (remember Tim's father's rather odd decision to leave work at 50 ... well ... you put the dots together as to why he made that rather counter-to-expectations decision ... ;-).

And so the film becomes an interesting reflection "about time."  How do we want to make use of the time that we all have.  I just wish that the film-makers took a bit more time to explore more of the possibilities of the film's premise.  It could have made the same point, but been, IMHO, "a lot more fun." ;-)

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