In “About Time,” Rachel McAdams plays the wife of a man that can travel through time. No, this isn’t a sequel to “The Time Traveler’s Wife,” but its impossible not to make the comparison. There are a few key differences between the two movies, though. For starters, this film is less about the time traveler’s wife and more about the time traveler himself. “About Time” also has the benefit of being more charming than the other McAdams time traveling romance. As far as time-related romantic comedies go, however, it’s no “Groundhog Day.”
Domhnall Gleeson, who was briefly seen as the eldest Weasley in the last two “Harry Potter” movies, stars as Tim. He’s an awkward, British ginger who’s lived a life of bumbling mistakes. After turning 21, Tim learns a family secret from his dear dad, played by Bill Nighy in a funny, effective performance. Every man in Tim’s family has the ability to travel back in time. All they have to do is go to a small, dark space, close their eyes, clench their fists, and think about a certain point in their life. How this phenomenon is possible is never explained, but so what?
The considerate Tim is always open to altering the timeline in order to help out a friend or family member in need. As far as his own aspirations go, Tim plans to use his ability to find the woman of his dreams and give her a perfect life. Enter McAdams as the kind, beautiful, smart, and unrealistically flawless Mary. McAdams and Gleeson have a lovely chemistry as two people that are basically brought together through manipulation rather than fate, but are still made for each other nonetheless.
Gleeson has all the befuddled likability of a young Hugh Grant. It’s hard to find any fault in McAdams’ performance, although we have seen her play this character a dozen times before. From “The Notebook” to “Wedding Crashers” to “Morning Glory” to “The Vow” to “The Time Traveler’s Wife” as mentioned before, she’s always the standard cute, nice girl … well except for in “Mean Girls.” Of course if she plays the role so well, who am I to complain?
At times “About Time” can go through a bit of an identity crisis. The first hour is essentially a light, romantic comedy. Then in the second hour, it tries to be something much deeper and becomes overly sentimental. In addition to being occasionally inconsistent, not every joke knocks it out of the park and some of the more dramatic scenes just come off as corny. When “About Time” wants to, though, it can be a very romantic film, a very funny film, and even a very wise film. While it may be hit and miss, there are more hits than there are misses. That’s more than can be said about the Adam Sandler comedy, “Click,” which could never find a consistent tone.
As enjoyable as “About Time” can be, there is one major problem with the setup. Although the film has no shortage of conflict, there’s an easy solution to almost every dilemma. If something doesn’t work out for Tim, he can just travel back in time and change it. Even when time traveling has an unexpected negative consequence, Tim can still simply go back and try again. After the fifth time we see Tim hit the redo button and change things for the better, the gimmick kind of wears out. On top of that, the rules of time travel presented in the film can be all over the place. Then again, every movie about time travel is riddled with plot holes, even the great ones like “Back to the Future” and “Looper.”
“About Time” does recognize, however, that there are some aspects of life that not even time travel can cheat. It’s in these moments that “About Time” does shine through as a meaningful movie about looking ahead with optimism as apposed to looking back with regret. This isn’t the best work from director Richard Curtis, whose previous credits include “Four Weddings and a Funeral,” “Notting Hill,” “Bridget Jones’s Diary,” and “Love Actually.” For what it is, though, “About Time” is a pleasant enough date movie for couples. Just be sure to check out Curtis’ superior films first, and “Groundhog Day” for that matter.
• Ahwatukee native and Desert Vista graduate Nick Spake is a student at Arizona State University. He has been working as a film critic for five years, reviewing movies on his website, NICKPICKSFLICKS.com. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.