“About Time” is a pleasant enough, if not exactly original, romantic comedy about time travel. It makes some valid moral points about proper behavior to those you love and those you don’t, provokes some quiet laughter, and is frequently clever, if never profound. Writer/director Richard Curtis — best known for such works as “Notting Hill” and “Love Actually” —g ently reminds us to use our time well, to regard and live each day as if it were our last. If the film suffers from some of the usual quandaries about moving back and forth in time, well, hey, it’s a comedy!
Star Domhnall Gleeson’s best-known previous role is Ron Weasley’s brother Bill in two Harry Potter movies, and he has some difficulty carrying the weight that, for instance, Hugh Grant has in realizing previous Curtis scripts. His character, Tim, learns on his 21st birthday from his father (Bill Nighy) that the men in their family can travel back to the past and return to the present. (Why not the women? Why not the future? Don’t ask.) To the incredulous Tim, Dad also says that making a lot of money by, say, betting on stocks or horses, won’t bring happiness, and messing up lives beyond your own is a no-no. (No killing Hitler or shagging Helen of Troy.) Dad himself has used the gift to read everything he wants to, such as all of Dickens, and to “spend time” with his family.
No bloody fear: Tim just wants to get a girlfriend. When he pops into a closet, clenches his fists, and re-emerges into the previous night’s New Year’s party, he discovers that he can steal a kiss from a willing girl. That summer, he gets a do-over putting suntan lotion on his sister’s gorgeous friend, Charlotte (Margot Robbie), but also learns that starting the summer over doesn’t necessarily help him win Charlotte’s heart.
Some years and a law degree later, Tim and his best friend, Jay (Will Merrick), meet two girls in a trendy London restaurant named “Dans le Noir,” whose patrons share tables and food without being able to see each other. Emerging, he discovers that the young woman who has charmed him sight unseen is a pretty American, Mary (Rachel McAdams), who looks past Tim’s red hair and somewhat geeky looks and even shares her bed with him on the first date. Using his do-over capacities, Tim proves to be a fantastic lover and the rest, so to speak, is history.
Tim subsequently resists being seduced by Charlotte, scorned by Mary’s conservative parents, and other pitfalls to marry his true love. He also learns, gradually, that the family gift is, like itself, “a mixed bag.” When he tries to help his loopy sister, Kit-Kat (Lydia Wilson), the unforeseen consequences re-teach him Dad’s original lesson: don’t meddle in other’s lives. Instead, just get on with living your own right, trying to get it right the first time and living with your mistakes.
Curtis supplies some wonderfully clever lines for his actors, and they deliver them well enough. He’s a bit shakier as a director — literally, when he employs a hand-held camera — and the movie’s visuals are unremarkable, the editing rather too lax and indulgent, dragging the comedy out too long. The final moments may evoke a genuine emotional response or just a sentimental tear: either way, it shifts the comic tone drastically.
“About Time” is rated “R” for language and some sexual content, but I doubt that it will endanger the morals of most mid-teens. It has crept into Big Movie Season relatively unobserved in this country. Still, you could spend a couple of hours cheerfully enough in this “summer movie” as winter approaches.