"About Time" (2013)- Movie Review

Written and directed by Richard Curtis
                       Starring Domhnall Gleeson, Rachel McAdams and Bill Nighy

‘A Wonderful Surprise’

Romantic comedies are almost always predictable. Many assemble highly talented actors on screen, yet can’t find a way to use them without making a joke out of their talents. The rest have such overused concepts that even before you watch them, you have a clear idea as to how they will end.

What is expected tends to be delivered: a guy falls in love with a girl, wins her over to the dismay of her boyfriend, and low and behold, the two live happily ever after. When this convention is followed so traditionally, haven’t you always wondered how romantic comedies would turn out if such stereotypes weren’t used? Have you dreamt of the day where fantastic, fully capable actors weren’t wasted?

If so, “About Time” is a sweet, breezy, genuine and deeply heartfelt romantic drama that I guarantee will surprise you as much as it surprised me. Given it’s predictable genre, you may immediately think it fair to assume that it’s your everyday ‘rom-com’ that offers exactly what you’d expect, correct? Well…astonishingly it isn’t. Whereas the plots of romantic comedies these days revolve around the unrealistic proceedings of ‘happily-ever-after’ fairy-tales, this one felt extremely real to me. You understand the characters, relate to their commonly experienced situations and when you least expect it, even end up identifying with them.

Do you realize how rare that is? Romantic comedies these days are predictable to their core, and often hard to take seriously because of their conventions. Here’s a film that demands to be. Consider: It involves the lives of people who could easily exist in today’s world; the sort that you might come across on the streets to work, or the bus rides to your favorite locations.

The boy, named Tim, is a youngster with a heart of gold who deals with the weighty issue of being extremely socially awkward. His dream crush is Mary, a woman who dreams of having a stable life. Both have one thing in common: they are unsatisfied with their seemingly ordinary lives.

When on his 21st birthday, Tim’s fun-loving dad reveals a time-travel secret, Tim decides to use it to find love.

At this point, I suspect that you may be perplexed as to how such a simple concept leaps beyond the goals of everyday romance films, but “About Time” pulls off the near impossible: it reaches for the stars and ends up touching life itself. Of course, as you may have expected, Tim catches Mary’s attention and woos her over in fantastical ways. But their life isn’t a wishful fairytale without worries. Their wishes aren’t fulfilled without harsh consequences, small choices impact them in ways they never see coming, and along their pitfalls and victories in life, as they learn, so do we.

As the curtains are drawn, and the lights go out, your expectations are turned upside down. Isn’t this merely a time-pass?, you ask, scratching your head. Doesn’t it end like any romance does, happily ever after? Aren’t the characters unrealistic, as they always are in romances? To all which I’ll simply answer, no. This is a wise film- teaching us lessons and reflecting what film critic Roger Ebert once said about the impact of movies: “your intellect may be confused, but your emotions will never lie to you.”

This quote defines what happened to me while watching “About Time”. My mind was reluctant to fall under the spell of a film that defied logic; who wouldn’t be when witnessing an idea that didn’t make sense? Yet being an emotionally sensitive person, the film swept away my heart against the wishes of my intellect.

Whether or not you’ll appreciate it boils down to your taste in movies. As a movie-goer, are you more of a thinker or one who is susceptible to feeling emotions? I’ve always felt home with the latter, and have come to realize that films which persuade us to use our brains, don’t endure as vividly in our memories as those that touch our hearts. Movies that make us contemplate in deep thought, lead to intriguing discussions soon after. But only a few truly make us feel, connecting with us on a personal level.

“About Time” is one of those movies; a once-in-a-blue-moon victory of a film that features larger-than-life characters, dialogue that zips forth with a rhythm that makes you want to dance, and a story that never skips an emotional beat.

When it comes to writing, not often does a script affect a film this much. Filled with love and sheer passion for engaging an audience, it is the kind that I only wish I came across everyday. Though the film runs at a slow 2 hours, the dialogue it hurtles past casts a spell on you. Upbeat and charismatic; there’s a rhythm, a rat-a-tat quality to the way the characters spells out words; so natural that it seems as if they were born to speak them.

In an era where movie dialogue seems to have either the meager goal of explaining plot details, or mercilessly boring the audience through wasted chunks of time, “About Time” has the kind of clever writing that refuses to let you look away from the screen. The characters are interesting, entertaining, and even intriguing, and their dialogue which plays like screwball comedy, reminded me quite unexpectedly of Quentin Tarantino’s style of writing.

Whenever Tarantino’s name is attached to a movie, you know what you’re in for: characters who behave rather strangely and have their own ways of handling situations. “About Time” has such characters as well. Like a young child anticipating a thrilling roller-coaster ride, a curiosity overcame me while watching them interact and I became eager to learn things about them, even after the film had finished.

Because you care about these characters, the story, and the dialogue, the delicious instances of humor charm your socks off. Dare I say, that it’s among the most hilarious I’ve heard all year? After witnessing a slew of American comedies that earlier this year splattered with immature humor, and dumb gags, it is quite refreshing to come across a film that avoids such restricted boundaries. Each scene offers witty, razor-sharp clever humor that you normally don’t come across in romance films, let alone comedies.

It is hard to not admire the extraordinary performances from the cast. A sense of chemistry is always needed between stars to enliven romantic comedies, and in “About Time”, they don’t disappoint.
I was quite taken aback when I first heard that a little-known actor would tackle the lead role in this film, but he surprised me on many levels. Charming, charismatic, and full of life, Domnhall Gleeson reminded me of Tom Hanks’ memorable turn in “Forrest Gump”. It is rather tough to catch an audience’s attention when they aren’t familiar with your presence, yet Gleeson brings an almost irresistible likability to the screen. You care for him, not because of his dialogue or relatable situations, but rather emotive facial expressions that tell you everything you need to know about his persona.

Rachael McAdams, a beloved actress among those who adore romantic comedies, is as always beautiful yet what struck me as impressive is that her looks didn’t overshadow her acting. In romantic-dramas of this age, actresses tend to pay more attention as to how they appear rather than act. That McAdams not only looks stunning but also gives a graceful performance, displays the kind of intelligence that’s hardly ever seen in actresses these days.

Although these leads were a joy to watch, they didn’t arouse my emotions as much as Bill Nighy. Tender and down-to-earth, he anchors together one of the most moving father-son relationships ever put to screen. It is the kind that simply makes you grin in appreciation of life, and though this may be hard to believe, even forgive the troubles you had with it in the first place.

With such dazzling talent unfolding on screen, what could possibly fall apart? As is the disappointing case with nearly every time-travel picture, even though it is creative, there is a lacking sense of logic in “About Time”. Questions are left unanswered, and I found myself scratching my head in confusion at events that didn’t entirely make sense. And although my mind didn’t wander off into close-by deserts, about halfway through the slow pacing nearly convinced it to.

Due to the film’s sloppily handled time-travel concept, I find it difficult to imagine science-fiction lovers being pleased by it. For them, it may not take long before they nitpick plot holes out of the film. But in a day and age, where romantic comedies aren’t interested in delivering messages, and are instead there only to help us get through life, “About Time” enriches it.

A lovely message is to be witnessed: it’s always so important to live each day with a huge smile on your face. If otherwise, I argue, what would be the purpose of life anyways?

4/5 stars

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