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Wednesday, 12 February 2014

It's "About Time" I Reviewed This *wink*

Richard Curtis movies are an odd bunch. They're funny, full of character, oh-so-British and yet they all feel so similar. The timing of my post a few days from Valentine's Day (here's some cards if you need them) might suggest what the common, far too heavily trodden theme of his movies is. That's correct: love. Who doesn't love love, right?

"I love that escalated Milwaukee whale's vagina". One-liner movies confuse me. 
Love is done to death. Being mushy to each other is more tired than an anaemic Kenyan with diabetes chasing after someone who stole his aid parcel. Curtis isn't helping the matter either, with Notting Hill, Four Weddings and a Funeral and Love Actually all being movies about people falling in love whilst being charming and funny. Well, to be more exact, they're all about Hugh Grant falling in love whilst being charming and funny.

They gradually heighten his hair so we can tell the difference between each movie.
What I hate most about Richard Curtis movies, though, is that I don't hate them. Nay, I can't hate them. The bland, overly squishy premises are made up for tenfold by his uncontested mastery of writing believable characters, fantastical yet real situations and superb British wit. And so, it is with joyous displeasure that I introduce to you his latest movie about love (with a little bit of time travel, as the tagline says): About Time.

Lets get the biggest difference between About Time and the rest of Curtis' back catalogue out of the way: there's not a Hugh Grant to be seen for miles. Now I love his cheeky wee face as much as the next straight guy but sometimes an actor can end up the poster boy for a particular type of movie, and Hugh Grant would be on the front cover of every issue of Quirky British Comedy Quarterly.

I couldn't be bothered photo-shopping a magazine cover so here's a photo of him
being stalked by the two most under-appreciated letters of the alphabet.
The other thing that's different about this movie is it's interpretation of what love is. Those of you who've seen Love Actually will likely contest that Curtis has already covered pretty much any form of love you can think of, but that was an ensemble film; none of the concepts were really able to gain the traction they would have if they were given centre stage. In About Time we follow the story of Tim (Domhnall Gleeson) who, having just discovered that the men in his family have the ability to travel backwards through time, sets out on the typical quest for the big "L word". Sounds pretty much like your bog standard romance with some sci-fi, but what the film ends up becoming is something completely different entirely.

First, though, lets get the sci-fi out of the way. The time travel in About Time is perfect in its simplicity: you can only travel backwards in your own lifetime and whatever changes you make with butterfly effect their way along to present day. Easy peasy. No further explanation given beyond the apparent need for a dark space and clenched fists. Time travel is treated in a similar way to 2012's Looper, the less you try to Doc Brown your way into paradoxes and parallel dimensions the easier it is for everybody, and with a film like this where the concept is more a plot device than anything else it works nicely. Sci-fi nerds might moan, but they're the ones who went to this movie without a girlfriend so fuck them.

Except this guy; he gets way more poon than me.
The film could, if you were the kind of person to cut things in half (towels, children, etc.), be cut in half around about the mid-point in regards to the main focus of the story and the themes being portrayed. Part one has Tim getting used to his time travelling powers while attempting to work out how he can best use them to get a girlfriend. In a nutshell, the first half of the movie is a creepy as fuck take on the usual boy meets girl and they fall madly in love thing. Imagine what you would say and do if you knew you could just jump into a cupboard, turn the clock back to erase it and start over; now remove all of the terrifying revenge fantasies, tone down the filthy sex stuff to a 15 rating and keep all of the horrifying manipulation of the lives of those around you exactly as is. That's what the first half is like.

Standing in cupboards in the middle of the day is never not odd.
Although Tim is portrayed as a lovably useless young man when it comes to social situations, his inherent awkwardness somehow just manages to make what he does even cringier. Whether or not you believe you might have found the woman of your dreams doesn't give you the right to alter her life without her knowing and, although the movie does become suitably adorable when he and Mary (Rachel McAdams) finally get together (aw come one, it's not a spoiler when it's on the poster), it takes a while for that initial shudder of horror to subside.

There are two things wrong with waiting all day for someone to show up at a Kate Moss
exhibition, only one of them is to do with the art.
Part two is where it gets much more interesting, however. I have to say it's either testament to lazy marketing or brilliant marketing (depending on your cynical outlook on life) that all of the film's advertising focussed on Tim and Mary, because about an hour into the film it stops being about them. Mary doesn't quite slip into the background as much as she is more assimilated into the Borg cube of Cornish charm that is Tim's family. Corn cube? Sounds like a particularly difficult bowel movement.

"Resistance is futile. Your poop, as it has been, is over."
And I mocked Trekkies not three paragraphs ago...
The ads for About Time makes you think that this is a film about lovey love, with all the sex and babies and such, but it sneaks up on you in the second act with its real aim: family love. As already mentioned, the men of Tim's family have the unique gift of time travel, which results in a particularly strong bond between Tim and his dad (the glorious Bill Nighy), a relationship that really lets Curtis' knack for believably dynamic human interaction shine through. That said, the love train doesn't have just one stop (oh, god, that was terrible) and you grow to love and cherish each and every one of Tim's beautifully realised family members, which makes watching the hardships they suffer all the more poignant when they come hurtling around the corner.

Sometimes even a Bill Nighy hug can't help.
I feel like I should touch at least a little on the technical side of the movie for a moment. What with being such a plot and character driven affair it's difficult to take the time to appreciate the beautifully framed, natural cinematography and the added little flairs like the recurring sound motif every time Tim travels back in time, but it's all there if you want to find it. There's nothing ground-breaking, but this isn't a film about hiding obscure meaning in baking powder tins and odd camera angles, it's about people, and it's shot to reflect that. Grounded and simple yet beautiful.

Just like dad dancing.
On a whole, this is the sweetest, most sincere story of one man's "extraordinarily ordinary" and ever so slightly creepy life I've ever had the pleasure of watching through floods of tears. Seriously, this will have you bawling by the credits. For once we have ourselves a film about the relationships we have with our families, particularly our parents, and the special little spot we save in our hearts just for them. It's not as forced as Four Weddings and not as cheesy as Love Actually; it's just right. This is by far Richard Curtis' best movie yet.

And just to polish off on as appropriately sentimental a note as possible: I think I can safely say that for as long as I live this movie will be my go-to whenever I need reminded of those things that really matter: how lucky I am to be surrounded by those I love and that those I love are there for me. Mum, dad, I love you guys. Now excuse me while I crawl into a ball and sob for another two hours.

Overall Ben Equivalence Rating

Seeing Your Dad Again for the First Time in Months -
For fucks sake, give him a hug. You've missed him.

Valentine's Day "Love" Counter: 25 uses of the word "love"

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