The creator of “Four Weddings and a Funeral” and “Love Actually” wanders into “Groundhog Day” territory with his latest romance. “About Time” is about time travel and how it might be applied to finding and winning over Ms. Right when love at first sight needs a second chance.
Who wouldn’t like a second or third shot at making a killer first impression with a potential mate? That’s the possibility that Dad (Bill Nighy) presents to his son Tim (Domhnall Gleeson). The men in their family can sneak off into a closet or somewhere hidden, clench their fists, and wish their way back to a moment they’d love to relive.
“Try and do something … interesting,” Dad suggests. No, you can’t assassinate Hitler.
The magic of this Richard Curtis movie is in both the comical ways that gift comes in handy, and in the romantic and emotional ones.
Clumsy, awkward Tim tests this out on his sister’s pal, hot Charlotte (Margot Robbie).
That’s when he — and we — realize that we could all use a do-over, here and there. Fix that first impression, avoid letting a friend or relative down, re-jigger your plans so that a hoped-for first meeting takes place (or is avoided). Make that first sexual encounter one for the ages.
Rachel McAdams is Mary, the American lass Tim almost meets at one of those gimmick restaurants where the diners eat in the dark. The sparks fly. In the dark. But the meeting doesn’t quite come off. And Tim, a true romantic, stumbles and struggles and plots to get a second chance at his perfect match.
“About Time” takes us into the life they might share, and finds ingenious ways to test love and the dilemma of choices as Tim keeps discovering all these “rules” about his time traveling. Go back too far, and she won’t remember you’ve met. Don’t go back far enough, and your troubled sister (Lydia Wilson) will still end up with a creep who ruins her life.
Misuse this gift and you’re no better than a stalker.
Gleeson — he played a Weasley sibling in the Harry Potter movies — is the son of the great Irish actor Brendan Gleeson. He has a winning screen presence and clicks with McAdams, whose gift for chemistry with a wide array of leading men makes her the most underrated romantic comedy actress of her generation. It’s funny that this is her third crack at time travel romances (the little seen “Time Traveler’s Wife,” the hit “Midnight in Paris”), and that, like Tim’s efforts, she improves on things this time around.
The film has the usual collection of cute Curtis supporting players, with Vanessa Kirby hilarious as Mary’s best friend and Tom Hollander killing as a playwright and old friend of Tim’s family who takes the ginger-haired boy under his wing.
Nighy gets his best roles from Curtis, and his father figure here is maybe the sweetest performance in his career.
As in most Richard Curtis films, things go on too long and turn a trifle gooey, here and there. It doesn’t have the big heart-tugs of “Groundhog Day.” It’s a needlessly R-rated romance that would have worked better as a PG-13.
But “About Time” is a most romantic way to spend your time at the movies this fall, a “date picture” about do-over dates that works this time around.
Cast: Domhnall Gleeson, Rachel McAdams, Bill Nighy, Tom Hollander
Written and directed by Richard Curtis. A Universal release.
Running time: 2:03
MPAA rating: R for language and some sexual content