The name of writer and director Richard Curtis has long been synonymous with a specific kind for romantic-comedy — films like “Four Weddings and a Funeral,” “Notting Hill” and, most egregiously, “Love, Actually,” where awkward but dashing men stammer declarations of love against gruesome pop songs. To his credit, he’s tried to back away from that. “Pirate Radio” barely has women in it at all, while “About Time” is a time travel romp. Of course, it’s a time travel where our (of course) self-effacing hero (Domhnall Gleeson) uses his superpower chiefly to orchestrate a life with a pretty American (Rachel McAdams).
It’s easy to forget that Curtis — who once wrote non-romantic, sometimes pitiless shows like “Blackadder” and “Mr. Bean” — can be pretty darn charming. The first half of his latest is a hoot, thanks in part to Bill Nighy, who plays his dad with full Bill Nighy swagger. But all along Curtis’ sentimentality hangs like the Sword of Damacles, and it comes crashing down to cause a sappy second. Not that even Curtis’ most shameless bits aren’t unfortunately affecting anyway, including a father-son bit that’s like the end of “Field of Dreams” times ten. Its most notable quality, though, is its lack of ethics: It never questions our protagonist’s manipulation of time and people, and seems to think one can enjoy a life of true happiness, with one’s true love, built upon some pretty serious lies.
‘Jimmy P.: Psychotherapy of a Plains Indian’
What is sprightly French filmmaker Arnaud Desplechin (“Kings and Queen,” “A Christmas Tale”) doing making a therapy movie? His first American film takes him to mid-20th century Topeka, Kansas to observe the treatment of the titular Native American (Benicio Del Toro), a WWII veteran suffering from a head wound. That the doctor is played by Mathieu Amalric (“The Diving Bell and the Butterfly”) is a good sign: Amalric is one of Desplechin’s regulars, and the two are like De Niro and Scorsese. Amalric ups the eccentricity; his introductory scene is a thing of manic beauty. He calms down, but even as the film settles into a series of chats, it can’t help but feel like there’s something more going on. “Jimmy P.” doesn’t go to the expected therapy places; there’s no triumphant “I’m cured!” eureka moment, and Del Toro is predictably too reserved, almost catatonic, to signal the usual Oscars talk. As it goes on it turns increasingly odd and mysterious, worthy of a deeper revisit.