About Time, which screens tonight and once again on Sunday at the New York Film Festival, is a film by the man who made Four Weddings and a Funeral (1994), Notting Hill (1999), Bridget Jones’s Diary (2001), and Love Actually (2003), among other hits, so it was kind of a big deal when it opened in Britain early last month. The Guardian, for example, gave it a special section where it’s been filing interviews, think pieces, and so on—and reviews. Peter Bradshaw gives it three out of five stars (likewise, Dave Calhoun at Time Out, where you’ll find another interview), Catherine Shoard, 2/5. For the reasoning behind similarly mid-range scores, see Sophie Monks Kaufman (Little White Lies) and Veronica Lee (Arts Desk). About Time didn’t fare nearly as well with Antonia Quirke (Financial Times) and Anthony Quinn (Independent), both of whom went with 1/5.
Before turning to the Americans—well, the New Yorkers—let’s sample another 3/5 review, this one from the Observer‘s new critic, Mark Kermode: “It’s easy to sneer at Richard Curtis’s movies, which (by the writer/director’s own admission) are populated almost entirely by ‘people I know, and like’—people for whom financial hardship means a slow day at the bookstore, Notting Hill is a middle-class milquetoast enclave, Hugh Grant is prime minister and airports scan passengers not for weapons or drugs, but for love, actually. Welcome, then, to the rambling seaside abode of another thoroughly genial family, replete with a dotty uncle, doolally sister and tea-loving mum, presided over by Bill Nighy as the Best Dad in the Whole World Ever.” And yet: “About Time wants us to put aside our cynical reservations and accept an extra pint from the milkman of human kindness. As I stood outside the preview screening watching middle-aged men and women alike wiping away a tear, it was evident that, for all its flaws, the film had indeed delivered.”
So. To New York, to another Time Out, to Keith Uhlich, who sets it up for us: “Awkward young Brit Tim (Domhnall Gleeson) wants nothing more than to meet the love of his life. American expat Mary (Rachel McAdams) fits that bill perfectly. So far, so rom-com formulaic, but there’s a wrinkle: Like all the men in his family, Tim can travel through time, allowing him to correct any slipups.” The verdict: “This is one of those dreadful NYFF titles that makes you wonder why it was included.”
But Chris Cabin, writing at Slant, finds it to be “a surprisingly thoughtful romantic comedy that shirks a great deal of reason and consequence in the name of love…. And in essence, Curtis is dusting around eloquent wisdom about both life and movies. Tim wants to edit out the awkward and painful parts of his life, but eventually comes to see them as essential and unavoidable, and his father also advises him to relive every day in order to take in life’s details and diffuse its tensions. It’s also crucial advice for any filmmaker: focus on the details, don’t skip or expedite the sad parts, and revisit films for inspiration. Indeed, Tim’s power ostensibly allows him to treat life like a narrative that he’s able to continuously rewind, reshape, and edit. This idea is limited by the sweetheart sway of Curtis’s script, but it still captures the zeal of being both an observer and stager of life, while also living it.”
“About Time, inadvertently, reveals itself to be About Men, and how they devise lies in order to create the illusion that all women supposedly want to see,” writes Gabe Toro at the Playlist. “Neil LaBute would have a field day with this material, but he also wouldn’t have had the innate cruelty to cast someone as divine as Ms. McAdams to play such a fool.”
“What’s truly strange about About Time,” finds Carson Lund at In Review Online, “is not its super-sexist worldview or its lack of subtlety, but rather its fundamental incoherence…. [O]ne can’t help but wonder what happened to the edgy comic writer of his Black Adder and The Tall Guy days and whether or not time travel could possible save him from his current creative and intellectual collapse.”
Yes, it’s “floridly, unabashedly sentimental,” grants New York‘s David Edelstein, “but Curtis certainly cuts to the heart of our time-travel fantasies. Much like the makers of Groundhog Day, he understands our feeling that life has passed us by and we weren’t there—hence the dream of going back.”
“It’s a melodramatic slalom course through unrequited love, missed opportunities, true romance, birth and death creating an avalanche of feeling,” grants Jordan Hoffman at Film.com. “It is powered by the strong ‘us against the world’ bonds that come from family, particularly that of fathers and sons, and Bill Nighy is, unquestionably, forever one of cinema’s coolest Dads with this performance. But just because you will be reduced to a flayed, raw mess of emotion as the final ‘life is beautiful’ scenes play out, that doesn’t mean this is actually, you know, a good movie.”