There’s a sickly-sweetness to About Time, the new one from witty British writer/director Richard Curtis (Love Actually, Pirate Radio). For all its life lesson subtext – live each day to the fullest, enjoy every sandwich, etc. - the film is essentially just a sappy rom-com (albeit a witty, British one) about two attractive young people who can’t live without one another.
There’s a convoluted (and wholly unnecessary) subplot about time travel, and Curtis’ standard chocolate-box sampler of eccentric secondary characters, but About Time is centered on British Tim (Domhnall Gleeson) and American Mary (Rachel McAdams), who meet cute and fall in love.
Bill Nighy, a Curtis perennial, plays Tim’s father, the head of a strange but loving household in the seaside town of Cornwall (although they reside in a mansion right on the beach, what Dad does for a living is never explained).
I’ll go to see Nighy anywhere, any time – hey, I even sat through Valkyrie and The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel – and he’s wonderful here, low-key and mumbly as ever, but since Dad isn’t the centerpiece of the film, we don’t see enough of him.
Gleeson’s ginger-haired Tim is the Richard Curtis stock character, the charming, well-meaning but befuddled leading man (think Hugh Grant in the Curtis-penned Four Weddings and a Funeral, Notting Hill and Love Actually). Gleeson is a fine actor but not particularly compelling onscreen. For two hours. Frankly, I could not figure out what McAdams’ winsome Mary saw in the bloke.
The film begins and ends with voiceover narration from Gleeson, a virtual steal from Love Actually. In fact, his voice is so similar, it’s almost as if Curtis brought ol’ Hugh in just for this little bit of audio.)
Love Actually (2003) has become something of a classic, on both sides of the Atlantic. Comparisons are bound to be made. So let’s address the issue right here, right now.
About Time isn’t as good. It isn’t as funny. It feels, often, like Curtis is trying extra hard – a little too hard - to work up some of his earlier movie’s magic pixie dust.
In Love Actually, you had a half-dozen stories all running simultaneously, rarely intersecting. The actors – many of the U.K.’s finest and most reliable – came and went as their plotlines required. Things moved and changed at a brisk pace.
There’s one set of characters in this movie, and one central storyline. And none of it, I’m sorry to say, is particularly interesting.