(An edited version of this was first published in The New Indian Express)
A lighthearted romantic comedy might traditionally require strong lead pairs with them being so central to the whole emotional ruckus but strip away from it and organize a strong supporting cast it’s an altogether different film despite its flaws. That’s the issue – the long and short of it – with About Time starring Domhnall Gleeson and Rachel McAdams and directed by Richard Curtis. Individually they are cast well, Gleeson especially has a knack to make all the awkward dorky moments work. But as a couple, there is little spark if any but fortunately for the film it doesn’t prove to be as fundamental to the proceedings. Mostly thanks to an ensemble of, not stars, but really good actors.
It starts with Billy Nighy. He plays Tim’s (Gleeson) father, with a discomfort for expressions of affection and a penchant for air table tennis – “I am so good without the ball.“, he says with absolute honesty and meaning, that the only way to respond is with, “You are!”. Then there is his mother played by Lindsay Duncan who has a charm of her own when her response to her husband’s distressing health situation is, “I am furious with anger. I am so uninterested in a life without your father.” There is Tim’s sister Kit Kat played by Lydia Wilson who in stark contrast to her father has the strangest of ways of expressing herself. It’s such actors and the characters at the fringe like Tom Hollander’s Harry Chapman and Vanessa Kirby’s Joanna that make this film with their short but memorable moments on screen.
The time travel concept is incidental and this is not the film to go into the science fiction logic or issues with grandfather paradox but despite all that the premise is stretched to its limits and beyond. There are multiple places where this could have ended but Curtis wishes to go on with his gag a few more times just to make a larger point about life. It is almost as if the whole thing is intentional, with the theme of repeatedly living your life’s moments finding itself within us, having to repeatedly live through scenes that are no different from the earlier ones and are past their sell-by date.
I’d love to watch a full length movie that’s About Dad, Mum, Uncle D, Kit Kat, Joanna and Harry but this is About Time and Richard Curtis forgets to follow the diktat of his own title.