I’ve made watching writer/director Richard Curtis’ “Love Actually” into somewhat of a December pastime, returning each year to remind myself that love is all around us, we are all perfect to someone and many more lessons. I should probably do the same with his latest film “About Time,” a love story that with less breadth but far more depth.
I don’t quite know or understand how the film got so overlooked when Universal released it in November 2013. (I was in London at the time, where the film was released earlier to a more solid commercial reception.) But this is Curtis at his most profound, offering not just a solid romantic yarn but a legitimately valuable guide on how to maximize happiness through life. Maybe in making it my “F.I.L.M. of the Week,” I can will myself into heeding his advice more.
The film begins with a somewhat trite, if not completely hackneyed, premise: time travel. That tired plot device feels fresh when appropriated here by Curtis, who is far more interested in humanity than any of the mechanics. The men of the Lake family possess, somehow, the ability to travel back in time to places they have already been. Bill Nighy’s patriarch passes this information along to son Tim (Domhnall Gleeson) on his 21st birthday and allows him to decide how best to deploy the gift.
Tim, who at the time has relatively few graces with the opposite sex, chooses to focus on love. Ultimately, it leads him to pin down the perfect woman for him, Rachel McAdams’ Mary. While his courtship of her is sweet and entertaining, the traditional romantic arc only forms a portion of “About Time.” Curtis goes far beyond the traditional stopping point of the first kiss, the wedding or the birth of a child, examining the manifold pains and pleasures of everyday adult life. “Happily ever after” rarely feels as earned or sincere as it does here.
The film confronts some of the core tenets of how we find contentment and satisfaction in life by offering a look at how someone with boundless time might approach them. By walking in Tim’s shoes for two hours, we get the chance to view time travel not as a means of correcting the past or preventing a future. Rather, we can see how this fanciful premise might allow us to enrich and enjoy the present.