What days would we choose to repeat in life, if we had that chance? Contemplating do-overs is the clever conflict in an unpredictable time-travel romantic comedy that is as delightful as writer-director Richard Curtis' other crowd-pleasers "Four Weddings and a Funeral," "Bridget Jones' Diary" and "Love Actually."
Utterly charming with an unexpected poignancy, "About Time" reminds us to stop and smell the roses, to enjoy the simple things in life, and to cherish family and friends above all else.
Twenty-one year-old Tim Lake (Domhnall Gleeson) learns from dear old dad (Bill Nighy) that like all the men in his family, he can travel back in time, not forward, but there are limits and rules to be followed. History can't be altered, only his life. His first decisions are based on getting a girlfriend, and they don't go smoothly, but then he meets beautiful, smart Mary (Rachel McAdams).
That leads to love, marriage, and family, and his content but unusual life is occasionally rocked by family matters.
Fairly unknown, gangly Domhnall Gleeson (Bill Weasley in the final two "Harry Potter" movies), doesn't appear to be leading man material, but he pulls off Tim, a younger version of a stammering Hugh Grant-type, with great aplomb. He's an everyman one can identify with -- kind, smart, and lovable.
Gleeson and Rachel McAdams ("The Notebook") have effortless chemistry on screen, and their love story is captivating. McAdams is in full American sweetheart mode -- adorable and genuine.
Bill Nighy is a British treasure, and he's sublime as the warm, wise and wonderful retired professor dad. Newcomer Lydia Wilson also stands out as free spirit sister Kit Kat.
Curtis populates his astute and literate scripts with such interesting characters that there are many performances to enjoy, no matter how brief. Tom Hollander is a hoot as a crotchety playwright, with Richard Cordery comical as an elderly, dear Uncle Desmond. The cast is overflowing with talent -- in cameos, Richard E. Grant and Richard Griffiths play stage actors in one scene.
With his winning formula, Curtis scores again by blending daffy, quirky, bumbling, and lovely characters with sharp authentic dialogue, mining the rich human condition for laughs. Because each well-conceived character, perfectly cast, makes an impression, we gravitate to all of them.
While the romance is sweet, the relationship between father and son is what deepens the film's emotional impact.
The dual setting of gorgeous coastal Cornwall and fast-paced urbane London is a perfect juxtaposition. The soundtrack is a terrific blend of new music and old British pop, with a few obscure chestnuts thrown in for good measure.
Like all his movies, Curtis wrings both laughs and tears from relatable situations, and this one particularly hit me hard, as we all can identify with life's sorrows. Bring tissues and somebody to hug afterwards (but really, much of it is one big smile).
What Doesn't Work
You think you figure it out, and then you really didn't, so it keeps one on our toes, and some might be frustrated that it's not so easily digested, nor is it dumbed-down.
All in all, a heart-tugging look at what makes an ordinary life extraordinary. The bittersweet finale catches one off-guard, but boosts the film into impressive must-see territory.
Hand me another tissue, for tears well up just thinking of people no longer here who once mattered very much.
Starring: Domhnall Gleeson, Rachel McAdams, Bill Nighy,
Director: Richard Curtis
Rated: R for language and some sexual content