“About Time”
Unlike some of the “raunch comedies” currently extant in Hollywood , this romantic comedy is gentle, and winsome, and easy on the ears and eyes. It’s also cute and funny, and despite dipping into the potential unsolvable dilemma of time travel, it doesn’t bog down in its own idiom, either. Except maybe for the repetitive background music.
Tim (Domhnall Gleeson) is a young British man who has grown up with an unusual family: not just Dad and Mom and little Sis, but also weird old Uncle D, who dresses smartly and looks like he’s thinking benign thoughts, when actually he’s not really thinking at all. He’s about as dumb as a doorpost. But he looks distinguished and kindly.
Tim has a great relationship with both Mom and Dad, but especially Dad (Bill Nighy), who was a college professor, but decided to retire at age 50, so mostly he’s been hanging around his library, an avid reader, yes, but also always available for the occasional walk on the seashore (they own an old family homestead), and the spirited but unskilled game of table tennis, complete with commentary from an imaginary announcer. Yeah, Dad’s a little wacky, but he’s fun, and he’s affectionate, and he loves Mom, who gardens, mostly, and little Sis, who’s the blithe free spirit and who has every opportunity for her weirdness to be celebrated.
Sounds almost perfect, right? Except our young, single, unattached hero has a problem: he’s been a flop with the girls. There was even a ravishing house guest for a summer, but alas, he failed to show interest in her soon enough. He has a couple of dork friends, but they aren’t much comfort, because they don’t know what they’re doing with the opposite gender, either. By the time he goes off to school law, he’s practically without any experience at all, and doesn’t even know how he’ll obtain any. And then, at last, he meets the right one. But of course, things at first don’t go so smoothly.
When Tim turned 21, his father called him in for “the talk.” No, not that one (what were you thinking?). But the man-to-man talk his father had had with him, and his father before him. The one calmly informing him that the males of the family all had a certain gift: the capacity to travel back in time. All they had to do was go to a dark closet, clench their fists, and think about what point in their past they would like to re-visit. No, they can’t go back to anytime before they were born. And, in a strange quirk of the weird family trait, the birth of a baby also creates a stopping point which they can no longer go beyond. Other than that, they are free to have a “do-over” when necessary.
This makes for several comedic moments, as Tim, incredulous at first, goes back to re-do a New Year’s Eve countdown where he failed to kiss the girl beside him. Ah, wouldn’t it be lovely to have another chance at some of those lost opportunities? But there’s a little trick: once he goes back to “re-do” something, that “un-does” what actually happened, so that when he goes back to try to save his roommate from great personal calamity, he winds up wiping out his first encounter with the girl of his dreams, Mary (Rachel McAdams).
This presents the opportunity for more comic moments, as Tim tries to re-establish a connection that Mary doesn’t remember, and the fact that he seems to know things about her kind of creeps her out, instead of charming her. But this is, after all, a romantic comedy, so we can safely root for our sweet couple, who love each other so completely. And we can also root for Tim as he struggles mightily with the concept that his Dad might be failing, even as Tim himself becomes the kind of father we would all like to see.
Yes, here’s a film that actually celebrates deeply-committed family relationships, and it’s so refreshing. Here’s an adult “rom-com” that can actually be recommended to the Sunday School class. Hooray!
Dr. Ronald P. Salfen, Minister, St. Stephen’s Presbyterian Church, Irving , Texas