Earlier this week I headed to the Champs Elysées for a late showing of the new Richard Curtis film, About Time. We learn about a young man, Tim, (Domhnall Gleeson) his family, his childhood in idyllic Cornwall, and the new year’s day that would change his life. His father (the brilliant Bill Nighy) informs him of the very special trait that runs through the men in their family; the ability to time travel. By finding a small, dark space and clenching his fists, he is now able to travel back to any moment in his own life and he uses this ability, of course, to bag a girl. After a couple of false starts he finally falls for Mary (Rachel McAdams), and manages to secure her love as well. And they lived happily ever after.
I liked the concept of this film. Time travel has been through many guises and though Curtis is not too bothered about following his own time travel rules, it serves as a great vehicle for his message. We are left wondering what we might go back and change if we could, and seeing Tim figure out how to enjoy life in his carefree, childlike manner we are ultimately reminded to live every day to its fullest, to see the beauty of life in the little things.
I found the acting impeccable, and especially loved Bill Nighy’s performance as the wise father. The father and son relationship was particularly touching and yet somehow I, a confirmed cryer, sitting there prepared with my tissue in hand, didn’t shed a tear at their heart-wrenching final scene together. I was slightly choked up, but something about the film had left me feeling a bit cold.
I couldn’t help but notice throughout the whole film the general homogeneity, which distracted me from the plot a little. Would you like to star in the next Richard Curtis film? All you have to do is tick off these attributes:
Wealthy (but without seeming to work too hard)
Firstly there is no racial diversity in the film. My friend commented afterwards that she had only realised this when, right near the end, there is a shot of a black nurse dancing, which made her aware of the complete lack of other non-white people in the film (apart from the odd extra). I wonder where the fault lies, is the onus to have a diverse cast on the writer, the casting director, the producers?
This whitewashing is accompanied by a ‘straightwash’ as well. There is one homosexual character who serves as a setup for a comedic, time-travel moment. She is the friend of Tim’s first love, Charlotte, who is first of all mistaken for being a lesbian. This induces a reaction of complete disgust from Charlotte, her face akin to that of someone presumed to have a terrible disease. I felt like she held homosexuality at the same level as leprosy .
On reflection, I was also disappointed by the storyline of Kit-Kat, the daughter who completes the 2.4, perfectly traditional family. She is a quirky, purple top-wearing young woman, with an obviously bizarre and lovable personality. Unfortunately she does not possess the ability to time travel and so cannot redo her mistakes. She falls into an abusive relationship, becomes an alcoholic and seems to suffer from depression. But, guess what everyone? All this suffering is instantly cured when she comes to the realisation that all she needs is to stop drinking and to find herself a ‘nice boy’. Her life is now wonderfully happy and she reaches the pinnacle of perfection by becoming a mother!
In general I found many of the character to be tired, overused stereotypes. Tim, with his Hugh Grant carbon copy voice, is the nice and goofy, insecure boy whom everyone loves except for the ladies.
And Mary is Tim’s equally nice, insecure, one true love. How do you make a glamorous holywood star seem nice and normal and not too pretty (because pretty girls “never develop a sense of humour”)? Give her glasses, a blunt cut fringe, and brown hair of course.
How do you make sure the audience knows the other girls are not nice and are definitely too pretty? All you have to do is make them blonde, of course. Blonde = sexy heartbreakers. And in case this doesn’t work, just throw in a couple of lines calling them “basically a prostitute” or have one ditch her dinner date with a friend in order to seduce the main character. Bitch.
We never actually see these girls have a conversation, and I can’t think of a scene that would allow About Time to pass the Bechdel Test.
With all these issues pushed into the dark cupboard with time-travelling Tim (along with the time travel plot holes), it isn’t a terrible film. Even though it is more rom than com, there are some funny moments. The film has a typically soppy message, but it’s a reasonably nice message nonetheless. I just wish it could have been delivered in less clichéd wrapping.