Hammering Out... is a series of movie reviews featuring a lively he said/she said discussion between John and Julie. This week: About Time.
JULIE: I am a sucker for a Richard Curtis movie. I want to live in a Richard Curtis movie. I don't really care which one, as long as it's Four Weddings and a Funeral or Notting Hill or Love Actually or the Mr. Bean movie. Or Bridget Jones's Diary, because why not. I think Richard Curtis is to blame for me not enjoying J.K. Rowling's A Casual Vacancy. He has painted this glorious picture of British life, and I just expect every movie and TV show to reflect it.
So, I was very excited to see About Time. I knew it would be treacly. In fact, I hoped it would be treacly. If I got out of there having ripped to shreds fewer than three tear-stained napkins, I was going to be disappointed. I think I went through four.
Of course, this movie isn't your standard Richard Curtis fare. There's a love story, sure, but it's fairly drama free. This film is more about living in the moment and enjoying your life than it is about getting the girl. In fact, it's more about fostering a relationship with one's father than it is about nailing down the babe you met at the Kate Moss art exhibit. And I liked that. I didn't miss the manufactured traps I expected to see thrown in the way of Rachel McAdams and Domhnall Gleeson's love. I liked that they were allowed to be, simply, two people who found each other and it worked.
But I have a feeling you disagree.
JOHN: Well, I was sold one thing by the marketing people at Universal, and that's not quite what I got. I expected a more romantic, British version of Groundhog Day. For a while there - the first half-hour or so - the movie delivers on that front. There's a great scene where McAdams and Gleeson meet at a restaurant where the diners eat in pitch black. They talk, they bond, and then they decide to meet on the outside, not knowing what each other looks like. When they do meet, it's instant love, and few filmmakers are as good at Curtis at hitting you right in the heart.
But as the movie progresses, it switches gears (and focus), and I realized that Curtis has other things on his mind. He's told that kind of love story before. Hell, McAdams certainly has. After The Time Traveler's Wife, Midnight in Paris, and now this, she must have an affinity for romantic stories about time traveling guys. I could go with Curtis' wonky version of time travel (just go to a closet, clench your fists, and think of where you want to go in the past) when the movie was more focused on Gleeson getting his love life right. It's high concept to be sure, but I was willing to go with it.
But, the movie started to lose me when the love story took a back seat to Gleeson using his time travel powers to help his sister, fix his best man's speech, and hang with his dad (the always welcome Bill Nighy). It's not that any of these scenes are bad per se. But they're not very funny, and play as overly sentimental. To a fault, I'd say.
JULIE: Yes, this movie is filled with sentimentality, but you can expect that from a Richard Curtis movie. And he likes telling love stories that aren't love stories, i.e. Liam Neeson and his stepson and Bill Nighy and his manager in Love Actually. About Time is a love story about a family. It's about how Gleeson's Tim meets Rachel McAdams's Mary, but it's also about how Mary comes to fit into Tim's already delightful family.
That's not to say that this movie isn't without its issues. If you stop to think about the time travel for any length of time, it all falls apart. When he goes back in time, does he have to relive everything again from that moment? So when he went back several years to help his sister, did he then have to experience the years between again? And if he did relive all those years, did he do everything exactly the same? I think the lack of butterfly effect is iffy. Do they really mean to tell us that Tim and his father have been time traveling for years and it's never affected anything they didn't want it to affect?
But putting that aside, and accepting that this is not a traditional rom/com, I thoroughly enjoyed watching this film. It's not Curtis's best, but it's not bad. I got exactly what I wanted from this movie-going experience -- tears, butterflies (though no butterfly effect), and cute British people being cute.
JOHN: Yeah, I guess it all ties in to Tim's family, but I just felt a lack of focus. It tried to do to much. Tim + Mary, Tim + his cranky playwright roommate, Tim + his sister Kit Kat, Tim + his Dad, Tim + his first crush. Jack of all trades, master of none. I thought the stuff with his dad was the best, and there's a scene at the end between the two of them that was emotionally powerful. I don't think it's a spoiler since it's right there in the preview, but when Nighy says, "My Son," and Gleeson says, "My Dad." Boom. Niagara Falls. But then Curtis spoils the moment by cutting to an unnecessary scene between father and son on the beach.
I agree about the time travel - I couldn't quite wrap my brain around it at any point. But, Curtis is no scientist. He's a humanist. And, the ultimate message of the movie - live each day to its fullest - is refreshingly simple and honest. And true.
One question for you - since when did characters' mutual love of Kate Moss ever become a plot point? Did I miss something? Is it 1998 again?
JULIE: It's always the '90s where I'm concerned.
So, I guess we have to rate this thing. I don't do stars, so on the scale of Richard Curtis movies, I'll give it a Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason.
JOHN: That doesn't sound like a good thing. I'll give it 3 out of 5 stars, and suggest people go see Thor: The Dark World instead. Because I'm sure the audiences for that movie and this one overlap.