Is it possible for a film to have sincere, warmhearted intentions, even if they come off as creepy and manipulative?
That's the unfortunate conundrum that ultimately spoils "About Time," the latest romantic comedy from Richard Curtis of "Love Actually" fame. It's the kind of film that aims to charm viewers with its optimistic perspectives on the beauties of life, love and family, but doesn't realize that it's failing to present these factors in an honest or genuinely fleshed-out perspective. In fact, what's even more upsetting is that the film feels inadvertently sour on a variety of levels, despite its attempt to be anything but sweet.
Domhnhall Gleeson stars as Tim, a shy, socially awkward young man who at the age of twenty-one is informed by his father, credited only as Dad (played by the exquisite Bill Nighy), that every male member of their family have the ability to travel back in time. As a result, Tim uses this familial talent to correct the most critical mistakes of his past with the belief that these alterations can only bring forth a greater sense of happiness for him and his loved ones. While this special ability proves to be effective in terms of tinkering away some of the missteps that Tim makes throughout his life, he begins to learn that there's only so much sorrow he can eliminate through the gift of time travel, and living life to its fullest sometimes means accepting the pain that comes with it.
If only the film were willing to go all the way with its intriguing premise instead of cushioning the viewer with conventional fluff. Strangely, "About Time" feels utterly contrived and irredeemably sloppy; not only does it break just about every single rule that it establishes in order to set boundaries for Tim's time traveling capabilities, but it also mistakes cheap sentimentality for profound emotional insight when it comes to developing its characters.
Early on in the film, Tim travels back in time to help out a friend, but accidentally erases a romantic evening he shares with a young woman named Mary (the luminous Rachel McAdams) that he previously experienced during that same slot of time, since he cannot be in two places at once (at least according to the rules of this film).
This results in Tim not just stalking Mary, but also savagely manipulating her through fiddling around with time, completely unbeknownst to her. For example, not only does he dispose of Mary's boyfriend by introducing himself to her during a party that took place before she met her significant other, he also travels back to the first time he and Mary had sex in order to relive the experience multiple times. This isn't a wholesome, consensual romance; it's a woman being objectified by a man who's completely unaware of the amoral subtext of his actions.
I'm sure that Curtis didn't intend for the film to be as smarmy as it plays out, especially considering that he attempts to tug at the viewer's heartstrings during at least every other scene (particularly through the heavy use of Nick Laird-Clowes' score), but he's totally oblivious to how unintentionally icky this material plays out on-screen. It often feels like a juvenile fantasy from the perspective of a male teenager who doesn't understand a thing about women, or the compromises that must be made in several aspects of life in order to intimately connect with another human being. "About Time" isn't intentionally sleazy, but by being so earnest in its portrayal of this material, it ironically makes the film even more queasy and artificial.
The bonus features consist of four deleted scenes, each with an introduction by Richard Curtis, a blooper reel, and a music video for the Ellie Goulding song, "How Long Will I Love You?" The Blu-ray also features three exclusive, but very, very short featurettes titled "About Tim and Time Travel," "The Look, Style and Locations" and "The World of Richard Curtis."
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