The first time I saw About Time (2013), I wept. A lot. In my review yesterday of Kingdom of Heaven (2005), I discussed how struck I was as a young man about that tale of the perfect knight navigating the Crusades. I guess About Time showed that sentimentality stuck with me into my thirties. So touched was I by this film that I wanted everyone to see it, and that ended up leading me to a moment I regret. At the time, I had an uncle suffering from what would unfortunately prove to be terminal cancer. I am particularly close to one of his daughters, and I wanted to share this movie with her. My mistake was in underestimating her reaction to it. You see, the father, James Lake (Bill Nighy), also passes away from cancer. My cousin’s tears, unlike my own maudlin droplets, were because the plot hit far too close to home. The Bible does warn about the dangers of good intentions. Still, my tense moment with my cousin should not take away from a film that is actually one of my favorites.
My little introduction to About Time above does not do justice to the plot, and might lead you to think that it is a bit of a sad story. While the death of James is an unhappy moment, it is actually quite uplifting and funny. And different. It is classified as a comedy, but with a science fiction twist, though you would not know it from looking at it. It starts off with James revealing to his son, Tim (Domhnall Gleeson), that the men in their family have had the ability to time travel. There are caveats, though: they cannot go forwards in time but must remain in the span of their own lives, and they can change things but that could lead to some unintended consequences. Initially unbelieving, Tim nonetheless finds a dark place (a prerequisite for time traveling, apparently), closes his eyes, and pictures when he wants to go. In this case, it is to the New Year’s Eve party his family hosted the night before so he can correct the embarrassment of shaking the hand of a girl who he found himself next to when the clock struck midnight instead of kissing her. For Tim, his ability was first and foremost going to be used to find himself the right woman. The right woman, in this case, is Mary (Rachel McAdams). They meet in a blind date, literally and figuratively. I say literally because the restaurant where their rendezvous takes place is pitch black inside and the servers are blind. Still, what better way to connect on an emotional level, shorn of all the complications of facial expressions and worries of whether or not our hair is right? Still, it is not exactly a straight line from there to their wedding day, and Tim must hop about in time to make sure that they not only meet but keep moving in the right direction. Later on, he uses it to get as much more time as he can get with his father before he passes away.
Okay, About Time thus far might not seem as funny as it actually is, so allow me to offer at least one humorous vignette. When it comes to Tim’s wedding day, he must choose between an odd assortment of friends to be his best man. There is Jay (Will Merrick), his boon companion from childhood, crass and vulgar, though with Tim when he met Mary. There is Rory (Joshua McGuire), an awkward co-worker who was the first friend he made upon his arrival to London. Finally, there is Harry Chapman (Tom Hollander), the abrasive and vain playwright who housed Tim when he first moved to London. Tim foresees disaster in each choice, and this is proved correct as he cannot pick between them and decides to try out each as his best man by sitting through their speeches at the reception. Each one was bad in predictable and hilarious ways, so he goes for the unconventional option of having his dad fill the role for which his friends proved unworthy. I love this bit, and it is something I have considered for my own hypothetical wedding.
The lesson to take away from About Time is that life by itself is good enough without needing to meddle with it through time travel. The word “lesson” is purposely used because James uses their abilities to teach Tim about how to be happy. His final assignment, if you will, is for Tim to go through a day without any meddling, but after it is over to go back and go through the entire twenty-four hours all over again. The second time around he is to notice all the things he missed while dealing with all the cares and troubles of daily existence. It should be noted that there is nothing Christian about this message overtly, but it does remind me of Matthew 6:34, “Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.” For this reviewer, the film jives with this concept because by reliving a day, Tim is able to widen his gaze to the wonders around him. God is bigger than our day-to-day worries, and by turning to Him in the midst of them is what brings us true comfort.
About Time is rated R, and there is premarital sex involved, although no nudity. It is actually quite tame in terms of its language and content, so the rating is a little surprising. It is a great date movie. However, be warned about its emotional weight, and do not underestimate it like I did with my cousin. Nonetheless, I think a sign of a good movie is that you laugh and cry, as I did.