About a bloke travelling for love

About a bloke travelling for love
Cinema still: About Time starring (from left) Mitchell Mullen, Lisa Eichhorn, Rachel McAdams, Domhnall Gleeson, Bill Nighy and Lindsay Duncan

Review Drama

ABOUT TIME (NC16)

123 minutes/Opens on Oct 10

Rating: 3 and a half out of 5

The story: Tim Lake (Domhnall Gleeson), like his father (Bill Nighy) and his male predecessors, can travel back in time once he reaches the age of 21. He uses his powers mainly in the pursuit of love, in the person of Mary (Rachel McAdams). His gift is not without drawbacks. Over the course of his life, he discovers that when he gets what he wants, others pay the price.

Writer-director Richard Curtis has a gift for making soft, mushy films that feel that way only on reflection, after one steps out of the cinema and away from their hypnotic embrace. Most famously, he wrote the screenplays for Four Weddings And A Funeral (1994) and Love Actually (2003), which he also directed - these romantic movies broke out of their genre niche to reach a wider audience.

He does that warm, fuzzy thing again here. Try as one might to assess this as a work of cinema and to pick at its failings (and there are more than a few), it is difficult not to give up and be drawn into its comforting, sunlit, middle-class whimsy.

Tim (Gleeson), like many of Curtis' male leads, is a really, really nice bloke - genuinely, selflessly and, most importantly, believably nice. There is not much to him beyond that. If he were the creation of some other film-maker, his character would be lambasted as cardboard-thin.

But Curtis has a way of letting Tim breathe and become human, especially when he is with his father (Nighy, in a role that tellingly, does not give him a name other than "dad").

Curtis' job is made easier by Gleeson's rendering of Tim as quietly contemplative, a man growing in confidence with the passing of time, and more to the point of this film, its re-passing, and re-re-passing and so on.

Comparisons are inevitable between Gleeson and Hugh Grant, the actor who embodies the classic Curtis qualities of awkwardness, self-effacement, optimism and dry humour, as seen in Love Actually and Four Weddings.

Gleeson, thankfully, does not try to be Grant 2. Instead, he offers a still, tic-free performance, free of the nervous stammering and brow-wrinkling that makes Grant, Grant.

Time travel is the nuclear option of story-telling - if a writer uses it, he had damn well have a good reason and he had better stick to the rules of his universe.

Curtis gets an A for using temporal displacement in a way that it is cogent to the story, but an F for abiding by his own rules.

And with its deliberate rhythms and lack of obvious jokes, one would also be hard to call this work a comedy.

But that hardly matters here. Curtis has succeeded at a tough job. Although it is not as good as the two films that made his name, this is an honest piece of work about love, free of mawkishness or characters with cloying quirks.

johnlui@sph.com.sg


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