It’s about time that a time travel film was this sweet and unabashedly romantic.
The fascination with time travel comes from the fact that we are all locked into a linear existence, and while our thoughts can take us back to relive moments or create dreams for the future, we can never stay there for long. In fact, it’s the “do-over” that is core to understanding our fascination with time travel film and literature. It was there in the opening to TV’s Quantum Leap, where Doctor Beckett finds himself leaping from life to life, striving to put right what once went wrong and hoping each time that his next leap will be the one home. Romantic comedies hold many of the same appeals, an idealised version of how things should be when you meet “the one”, and corresponding obstacles that are necessary to the ultimate victory in the game of romance. Naturally, it’s Richard Curtis, the master of the latter genre, who attempts to harness the wibbly wobbly elements of temporal logic and apply them to this thing called love. It begins when Tim Lake (Domhnall Gleeson) is told by his father (Bill Nighy) that all the adult men in his family can travel through time. Tim uses this great power to get a girlfriend, ultimately finding his soul-mate in Mary (Rachel McAdams).
You can put to one side the holes in the time travel logic, because the film is more fundamentally about the relationships and insecurities of its leads. Often compared with Groundhog Day (1993), it’s also close in tone to last year’s Safety Not Guaranteed, where time travel is simply the push that places our would-be couple together. Indeed, Tim and Mary remain a couple for much of the film: we witness their life, their love, their fights, awkward family gatherings, tragedies and births. Mary remains unaware of Tim’s chrono-shifting abilities, but this allows for the building of the other great relationship of the film: the strong bond between Tim and his father. Nighy, of course, steals every scene that he’s in, and forms part of a particularly strong family of characters that includes Lindsay Duncan as Tim’s mother, wild-child sister Kit Kat (Lydia Wilson) and the delightfully batty Uncle Desmond (Richard Cordery). It was also wonderful to see Richard Griffiths playing a thesp in his last on-screen performance.
After Time doesn’t take the cheap emotional exit strategies, and never falls into the “big dramatic moment” or the third act revelation that almost derails the romance. Instead, it’s about self-realisation, with Tim taking years to learn the true secrets to happiness, and finding those moments that you completely embrace when they are happening. You’ll want to go back and relive this one again.
About Time was released in Australia on 17 October 2013 from Universal.