J.B. Spins

Jazz, film, and improvised culture.

Tuesday, October 01, 2013

NYFF ’13: About Time

Ginger-haired Tim Lake is about to learn he was born into a family of Quantum Leaping time travelers. According to his father, it only applies to the men, so his mother and sister remain oblivious to their theoretically great power.  Like Scott Bakula, they can only jump backwards within their own lifetimes.  There will be only one hard and fast rule for them to follow when Four Weddings and a Funeral director Richard Curtis gets his Groundhog Day on with About Time (trailer here), which screens during the 51st New York Film Festival.

When Lake’s dad drops the H.G. Wells bomb on his 18th birthday, the shy teen assumes it is a joke.  Obviously, romantically challenged, Tim’s tries uses the family talent to woo his free-spirited sister Kit Kat’s hot houseguest, Charlotte.  Yet, she is not having him, regardless of how many do-overs he takes. He will have better luck Mary, a Yank who you could definitely bring home to meet the family.

Eventually, he does just that. Domestic bliss and moderate professional success seem to be well within the adult Lake’ grasp, but he worries about his increasingly depressed sister.  When he tries to prevent her meeting Mr. Wrong, he discovers the one big catch of time travel. When asked, it turns out his exceptionally laidback father has one or two more revelations in store for him.

Everything surrounding About Time, including Curtis’s reputation, screams romantic comedy, but that simply is not the case.  Granted, the first act is devoted to Tim’s clumsily courtship of Mary, but that is simply a way to establish the parameters of the time travel system (only to break them shortly thereafter). About Time is really a father-son relationship dramedy, but a pretty good one.

Probably the most popularly accessible film at this year’s NYFF, About Time is not exactly awards bait per se, but any Oscar campaigner worth their salt should be willing to take a shot with Bill Nighy. As usual, he is a model of wit and sophistication, but he delivers the big fatherly pay-off in spades. Yet, still he maintains that understated persona, foreswearing mawkish sentiment.

Domhnall Gleeson is appealingly earnest as Lake, plus he has red hair. However, Rachel McAdams looks rather out of place as Mary, not that it matters. Women in general are rather passive in About Time, essentially playing the role predestined by their time traveling men. Even Lindsay Duncan, the dread terror from Le Week-End, plays a decidedly subordinate role as Tim’s mother.

Still, like Curtis’s past crowd pleasers, About Time is peppered with colorful supporting turns and near cameos, notably including Richard E. Grant and the late great Richard Griffiths as two hammy stage actors. Surprisingly, British TV veteran Richard Cordery steals the show when we least expect it as Lake’s eccentric Uncle Desmond. Pan Am’s Margot Robbie certainly looks the part of Charlotte the temptress (which adds entertainment value). On the other hand, Tom Hughes is conspicuously miscast (again) as Kit Kat’s bad boy boyfriend Jimmy Kincade.

About Time bends its own rules left and right, but viewers will just have to deal with it. (This is fantastical time travel rather than the science fictional variety.) Curtis is more interested in building to emotional moments, which resonate considerably more deeply than one would expect. Recommended for fans of Nighy and mainstream relationship-driven fantasy, About Time screens tonight (10/1), tomorrow (10/2), and Sunday (10/6) as a Main Slate selection of the 2013 New York Film Festival.

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