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I have one major misgiving about Richard Curtis' romantic fantasy "About Time," and that involves the innocently duplicitous behavior of its main character, Tim.
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"About Time"q★ ★ ★ ½
Starring: Domhnall Gleeson, Bill Nighy, Rachel McAdams, Tom Hollander
Directed by: Richard Curtis
Other: A Universal Pictures release. Rated R for language and sexual situations. 123 minutes
Tim, a young Brit played by rising, redheaded actor Domhnall Gleeson, never tells his American girlfriend/lover/wife Mary that he possesses the power to time-travel into the past at will. And go back as many times as he wishes.
He doesn't exactly lie to Mary, played by the always fetching Rachel McAdams. But by withholding this piece of information, Tim is, at worst, guilty of condescending to the little woman, who doesn't need to know about his abilities. At best, his silence makes it easy for Curtis' screenplay to sidestep the issues of broken trust and feelings of betrayal that such knowledge would ultimately precipitate.
Having noted this (and, after all, this is a fantasy), "About Time" accomplishes something most unusual for a time-travel story: The plot doesn't pose a romance revolving around chronological surfing.
Instead, "About Time" presents us with a full-blown romance between a man and woman, one of which just happens to be able to go into a dark, quiet place, squeeze his fists and -- presto! -- wind up in whatever place and time he wishes to be.
There are a few limitations. These are enumerated by Tim's flighty father (Bill Nighy) who informs Tim on his 21st birthday that his magical birthright (only for males, females don't count) comes with conditions:
1. He can't travel into the future.
2. He can't travel back beyond his own birth.
3. He can't change history, like assassinate Hitler. (Given Tim's probable birth year, he couldn't do that anyway.)
Being a nice guy without the urge to profit from his powers or to seek revenge for childhood slights, Tim finally uses his chronological gifts as a sort of charm school, repeatedly attempting to bed a girl named Charlotte (Margot Robbie), each time refining his methods of seduction.
He puts his powers to a real test later, after becoming an attorney, moving in with a curmudgeonly playwright named Harry (Tom Hollander), and encountering the vivacious American girl Mary at London's Dans le Noir restaurant where patrons dine in total darkness.
Their first meeting ends abruptly, inspiring Tim to re-meet Mary until it goes the way he wants. But he also learns a significant lesson that shapes the plot later on: Every time he goes back, he alters the timeline so that some things are drastically changed when he returns to his "present."
This is heady time-travel stuff from Curtis, mostly known for his holiday masterpiece "Love Actually," a whimsical, wonderfully wrought work examining love in its various facets.
Curtis has fun playing with this premise. He turns "About Time" into a near-biblical test for young Tim, who uses his talents to save his poor sister Kit (Lydia Wilson) from a life of bad choices and a car wreck, only to discover the price of his noble act may be too high.
"About Time" will never stand up as solid time-travel science-fiction any more than the cult romance "Somewhere in Time" did in 1980. If anything, it too closely recalls Harold Ramis' fantasy masterwork "Groundhog Day."
This movie covers familiar Curtis turf with lite-FM songs and a parade of warm and gushy montages, not of big moments, but of seemingly little ones, like playing ping-pong with your dad or taking a walk along a beach.
Curtis uses his movie as a heartfelt reminder that although Tim and his dad can replay special events from their lives, we cannot.
And so, "About Time" is not about time at all. It's about what we choose to do with it that makes the difference.