It’s been forever since I was bowled over by a Richard Curtis film (quite literally – I am not a big fan), but for his purported swan song the man responsible for Four Weddings and a Funeral and Love, Actually has gained my favour by abandoning some of his clichés and rolling out a delightfully innovative plot.
The charming conceit at the centre of this family rom-com-dram is that the men of the family (in this instance, a typically warm and charming Bill Nighy and his son, played by Anna Karenina’s Domhnall Gleeson) have the ability to travel back in time, within their own life, and relive certain moments. Nevermind the hows and whyfors – the film’s strength is in having us suspend our disbelief and get caught up in the burgeoning love story between Gleeson’s awkward Tim and the delightful and not-too-quirky Mary (American Rachel McAdams – alright then, so Curtis continues his pattern of British fop meets American woman, but all is forgiven since McAdams takes up Julia Roberts’ mantle with aplomb).
Inevitably there are touches of Groundhog Day as Tim nips back hours, days, sometimes longer in order to restore bungled moments from his past, but it is handled with a similar charm to Midnight in Paris (which also starred McAdams, as did The Time Traveler’s Wife – take note, trivia buffs) and Gleeson’s natural performance endears him to the audience.
Amidst the middle-class swearing and “outrageous” language that typifies these British comedies (cue fantastic cameo from a caustic Tom Hollander), Nighy is particularly superb and his onscreen relationship with Tim unashamedly moving and sentimental, while at the same time poignantly true. Other family members slot more into Curtis’ clichés but this story belongs to Tim and Mary, and while it is told over a long period of time, you wouldn’t want to cut out a moment of it.
As someone says: “We always want a second chance at a first time”. With About Time enchanting critics and audiences world-wide, one suspects Curtis may want to stick around.