‘About Time’ — Richard Curtis’ film falls short of ‘Love Actually’ charm

By Eleanor Ringel Cater

Every so often, a movie comes along that, if someone brings it up, you know they’re going to say how much they liked it. A good example?  “Love Actually.” People who dislike it never bring it up.

“Love Actually” apparently never achieved Pet Peeve status — though a number of critics, smelling a crowd-pleaser, went out of their way to heap scorn on what I’ve always looked at as a friendly, eager-to-please, reasonably unpretentious picture.

So, when the ads for the new film “About Time” go out of their way to remind audiences that it’s from Richard Curtis, the same guy who wrote and directed, well, “Love Actually,” you can see they are counting on 10 years worth of good will (Yep, it came out that long ago).

Nothing wrong with that. The marketing department could also point out Curtis wrote “Notting Hill” (one of Georgia Power CEO Paul Bowers’ favorites) and “Four Weddings and a Funeral” (one of mine).

But “Love Actually” is the magic word (well, words). And “About Time” is not in the same ballpark. It’s not even in the same game.

A flimsy love story tied to an even flimsier time-travel premise, “About Time” concerns a ginger lad (Brit for young man with red hair) who, at age 21, learns from his father (Bill Nighy, many a film’s saving grace) that the men in the family have a singular entitlement.

No, it’s not droit de seigneur. Rather, the guys can travel in time. All they have to do is go into a secluded dark place, clench their fists, think of some moment in the past and, voila, you get a do-over.

That doesn’t mean you can go back and stop Lincoln’s assassination. Nor is there the dread Butterfly Effect, in which changing the slightest thing in the past affects everything in the future.

Well, there is one, kinda, but you have to see the movie. No spoilers here.

The lad, played with endearing, if ultimately wearying, awkwardness by Domhnall Gleeson, accepts this gift with grace and surprisingly few questions. Further, rather than using time travel to get rich on the stock market or some such selfishness, he uses it to find True Love.

And love, in the movies, doesn’t come any Truer — or Lovelier — than Rachel McAdams. Even burdened with nerd glasses and an unappetizing taste for vintage clothes, she’s gorgeous. Inside as well as out, of course.

However, even with a do-over in your back pocket, the course of True Love and all that…

I will grant “About Time” this: it has an almost irresistible sucker-punch ending. One that is overwhelmingly reminiscent of Thornton Wilder’s “Our Town” in which his heroine, Emily, notes most of us never realize how wonderful life is while we are living it.

Funny thing, though. I was hugely disdainful of “Our Town” when we did it in high school. Yet, the older I get, the more brilliant I think Wilder’s play is.  Maybe I’ll feel the same way about “About Time,” as well. Check back with me in about 10 years.

Eleanor Ringel, Movie Critic, was the film critic for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution for almost 30 years. She was nominated multiple times for a Pulitzer Prize. She won the Best of Cox Critic, IMAGE Film & Video and Women In Film awards. An Atlanta native, she graduated from Westminster and Brown University. She was the critic on WXIA’s Noonday, a member of Entertainment Weekly's Critics Grid and wrote TV Guide’s movie/DVD. She is member of the National Society of Film Critics and currently talks about movies on WMLB and writes the Time Out column for the Atlanta Business Chronicle.

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