Wednesday, 2 April 2014

"You can't kill Hitler or shag Helen of Troy."

About Time is without doubt a quintessentially Richard Curtis film, with all the inherent baggage – both good and bad – that that label flags up. There will be heart on sleeve emotion. There will be an array of supporting characters you'll either want to cuddle or smack in the face. There will be an attractive American woman and her unlikely British suitor. There will be delirious amounts of swearing. And, of course, there will be rain. Lots of rain.

If all the above makes you want to reach for the insulin then you should on paper, though not in reality, pass. And if you are of the camp that has enjoyed Curtis ever since Four Weddings And A Funeral (1994), and hadn't even noticed his propensity to drift into disproportionate sentimentality at times, then you're in for an absolute treat.

About Time is arguably Curtis' most interesting, mature, profound and deeply moving movie to date. It also features some great gags about oral sex, and the funniest sex scene since Emma Thompson got a piece of toast stuck to her bottom in The Tall Guy (1989).

What's most impressive is how Curtis backs up his pre-release claims of this being a movie based in his universe but also a progression of it. He may have cast pretty much the most adorable romantic leading lady working today (Rachel McAdams), but in truth, Curtis is only temporarily concerned with whether our lovable hero can win his Yankee damsel's hand. In this, Curtis' ambitious magnum opus, his guy gets his girl, loses her and gets her back before we've even hit the halfway mark.

Put simply, Tim (Domhnall Gleeson) and his family have the ability to travel back in time. They can't rock up at any point in history, but they can return to various points in their own lives. All they need to do is disappear into a dark space – a wardrobe will do – and will themselves back to that moment.

But Curtis isn't interested in the logic loops and continuum consequences associated with contemporary time travel story telling. The real focus here is on fathers and sons. And in Gleeson and Bill Nighy (The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel), a none more British lad and his dad, Curtis has found a winning formula to stitch into one that has already worked so well for him for years. Gleeson is terrific, both as the early hormonal dork pining after out of his league girls, and as the latter part of the movie's magnetic grown up. Nighy's scatty charisma, meanwhile, is the perfect foil. And though the movie veers wildly in the early part of its third act, it is their relationship, a beautifully played mix of contradiction, understanding and affection, that elevates it come the end into something properly wonderful. At once intricately plotted, deceptively simple and proudly British.

More than just a time travel romantic comedy, this is a movie that asks you questions and doesn't sugar coat as many of the answers as you'd expect. Smart, funny and genuinely moving. It should also probably come with a 'there's something in my eye' warning.

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