Richard Curtis just may be the king of the romantic comedy. Writing Four Weddings and a Funeral, Notting Hill, Bridget Jones’s Diary, and Love Actually (which he also directed), among others, his films have been the staples of movie nights looking for some sappy comedy with British sensibilities for decades. I unabashedly love them all. About Time, however, stands well above all of Curtis’s other works as a film that plays into those classic romantic comedy moments. It has all the joys and sadness that comes with them but also manages to rise above the genre’s usual limits and become a truly profound statement about the meaning of life.
About Time is a romantic comedy but more importantly it’s a film about, well, time. Domhnall Gleeson plays a young man Tim who discovers that the men in his family have the ability to time travel, and uses that ability to relive moments in his life in the hopes of finding the perfect life. He soon meets Mary (Rachel McAdams) and falls in love before he has to travel back in time to help a friend. Failing to go on their first date, he continues to mess with time before they eventually, predictably, end up together. Here I feel the need to note (because I initially thought this) that About Time and The Time Traveler’s Wife are two entirely distinct films that both happen to feature Rachel McAdams and time travel. About Time is far and away the better film.
The difference between About Time and most romantic comedies (time travel aside) is that the entire plot I described above all takes place in the first half of the film. The rest sees the characters deal with life already having fallen in love and achieved their happy ending, finding that even when you’ve got everything you once dreamed of, there is still sadness and difficulty in life and there is still a lot of room for growing up even when you have your own children to raise. What began as an amusing look at a man trying to fix all his mistakes for personal gain becomes an insightful examination of how every small decision in a life can lead to something major, and how the past must be released to move on to the future.
There are certainly some aspects of the film that won’t appeal to everyone. In one of the first scenes, the rules of time travel are laid out, only for every one of them to be broken later, Later on, more rules are introduced that have enormous consequences if broken, but they too are broken in due time, and ultimately none of this rule-breaking ever really has any sort of bearing on the characters or the story. For those who want everything to make sense, this always seem to be a sticking point, but for the rest, it’s a movie about time travel, which rarely makes any sort of sense. More importantly, it’s a movie about love, which is even more confusing than time travel, so the inconsistencies really just play into both of those things and make it more engaging. The discrepancies in the internal logic aren’t an excuse to entirely turn off and be entertained without attempting to glean anything else from the film though. Instead, they say to focus on the lessons Domhnall Gleeson’s Tim learns through his time travelling and realize that it isn’t important that we as viewers can’t time travel. . We can still live each day as if we had deliberately chosen to live it again and find its simple joys. There comes a time when all of us must leave the past behind and go forth, excited and afraid, into an uncertain future.
“We’re each travelling through time together every day of our lives. All we can do is our best to relish this remarkable ride.”