Richard Curtis’ sci-fi romp ‘About Time’ is pretty fun — for an hour

Rachel McAdams is in love with a time traveling Domhnall Gleeson in "About Time." Credit: Murray Close
Rachel McAdams is in love with a time traveling Domhnall Gleeson in “About Time.”
Credit: Murray Close

‘About Time’
Director: Richard Curtis
Stars: Domhnall Gleeson, Rachel McAdams
Rating: R
2 (out of 5) Globes

The name of writer and director Richard Curtis has long been synonymous with a specific kind of 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 film where our (of course) self-effacing hero (Domhnall Gleeson) uses his superpower chiefly to orchestrate a life with a pretty American (Rachel McAdams). Through an often strained system of rules, Gleeon’s Tim — like his father (Bill Nighy) — can only use his abilities for minor deeds. He can’t go back and kill Hitler, but he can go back a few minutes or days or years and come up with a funnier joke or make sure Adams’ Mary doesn’t hook up with someone else.

The relative mundanity is the film’s main charm, and ultimately its liability. The first half is a reminder that Curtis — who once wrote non-romantic, sometimes hilariously pitiless shows like “Blackadder” and “Mr. Bean” — can be pretty darn charming. It’s often a hoot, thanks to Gleeson — the charming son of Brendan, both of whom have appeared in the “Harry Potter” films, albeit separately — and especially Nighy, in full Nighy swagger, delivering quotables with an unpredictable sing-song that resembles jazz. (The scene where he tries to convince his son of his unusual gift is a masterpiece of cool understatement.)

It doesn’t take a cynic to realize Curtis’ oft-unsightly sentimental streak hangs there like the Sword of Damocles. It comes crashing down to cause a sappy second, which aims for profundity and mostly reaches banality instead. Not that even its filmmaker’s most shameless bits aren’t unfortunately affecting anyway: One father-son bit is like the end of “Field of Dreams” times ten.

What it reveals about Curtis and how he sees the world is fascinating, if not always flattering. It’s telling that time travel is a male thing, outside the grasp of women, who are thus manipulated by men working outside their control. In fact there’s an alarming lack of ethics: It never once 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. Creepy, actually.


News
Entertainment
Sports
Lifestyle
National

Florida man charged with murdering son to play…

A Florida man annoyed that his 16-month-old crying son was preventing him from playing video games suffocated the toddler, police said on Friday.

International

Powerful 7.2 magnitude earthquake rattles Mexico

A powerful earthquake struck Mexico Friday, shaking buildings and sending people running into the street, although there were no reports of major damage.

News

OMG! Exercise can make skin (and butt) look…

A moderate exercise regime can turn back time and actually reverse the skin's aging process, according to new research. The study showed that a minimum…

Local

Oval oasis: Summer of fun kicks off this…

A bold partnership between the Fairmount Park Conservancy and the city's Parks and Recreation Department is kicking off this weekend with family activities re-activating this unused public space.

Entertainment

Whoopi Goldberg makes her debut as marijuana columnist

"It helps my head stop hurting, and with glaucoma your eyes ache, and she takes the ache out. It's wonderful," she said.

The Word

Kate Middleton made fun of Prince William's bald…

Kate Middleton and Prince William are in Sydney, Australia, right now, and it sounds like that brash Aussie sense of humor might be rubbing off.

The Word

Is Tom Cruise dating Laura Prepon?

"Mission: Impossible" star Cruise is said to be dating Laura Prepon, star of "Orange is the New Black."

Television

'Scandal' recap: Season 3, Episode 18, 'The Price…

Sally is Jesus, Olivia caused global warming, and Mellie's still drunk. Let's recap the Scandal finale. A church full of Washington insiders is about to…

MLB

Jimmy Rollins is key to Phillies success

When John Kruk was asked about what the Phillies need to contend for a playoff berth, the ESPN analyst said Jimmy Rollins needs to play like a MVP again.

MLB

Ben Revere lifts Phillies to avoid sweep

Ben Revere came through with a two-out RBI single against Atlanta’s tough lefthander Alex Wood.

NBA

Season wrap: 76ers make the grade

The 76ers opened the 2013-14 season with a victory over the Miami Heat. The Sixers closed the season with a win at Miami.

NBA

Fantasy basketball: Finding next year's NBA studs

Before we put the 2013-14 fantasy basketball season to bed, it’s worth thinking about next year’s breakouts while they’re fresh in our mind.

Tech

VIDEO: 'Vein-scanning' may become the future of paying

Designed to make transactions quicker and easier, the technology works by scanning the unique vein patterns in each person's palm.

Tech

#FollowFriday: 10 of the smartest Twitter accounts

Spending lots of time on Twitter? You might as well learn something. Here are some of the smartest accounts to follow.

Style

Light-up nail art syncs with phone

This Japanese technology syncs light-up nail art with your phone.

Wellbeing

Why is dance cardio taking off in NYC?

Instructors at some of the city's hottest classes explain why.