Even though About Time's key conceit is that lanky ginger Tim (Domhnall Gleeson, Brendan's boy) has inherited from his father (the perpetually awesome Bill Nighy) the ability to travel back in time to previously lived moments in his life and change them as he sees fit, writer-director Richard Curtis (Love Actually, Notting Hill) is not all that interested in sending his hero through repetitive, Groundhog Day-style tweaks until Tim nails every moment in his life to his greatest satisfaction. Instead, he has Tim play most of his interactions straight, flexing his time-travel muscles mostly just for major faux pas. And while Curtis is usually responsible for making sentimental love stories, About Time is actually a sentimental life story, focusing not just on Tim falling in love with Mary (Rachel McAdams) but showing him growing into a husband and a father. This broader approach gives the story a surprising resonance that ironically makes About Time feel like Curtis's most grounded and realistic movie.
Having had to engineer dozens of movie meet-cutes, Curtis comes up with an interesting first meeting for Tim and Mary. They are seated together at the London version of Dans Le Noir?, a restaurant where patrons are served in pitch blackness by a blind wait staff. Since this is a movie, we do get the slightest glimmer of wine glasses and dishes on the table so that the audience doesn't worry that the projector is broken, but we essentially only get to hear Tim and Mary's first meeting. They get to charm each other -- and us -- with only their words. Then, at the end of the meal, they exit the building and see each other for the first time. It turns out they make a cute couple. Tim manages to get her number, and things are looking up.
However, when Tim gets home, his playwright roommate (a hilariously tempestuous Tom Hollander) has just had the worst night of his life. During the premiere of his new play, one of the actors forgot a line of dialogue and stood frozen like a statue for thirty straight minutes, turning the whole show into an irrevocable disaster. Tim takes it upon himself to go back in time, go to the play with his roommate, and then coach the actor through his brain fart. Thankfully, it works and the play is heralded in the press as a work of genius. Unfortunately, Tim has just erased his date with Mary and lost her number. Now, he has to figure out a way to meet her again for the first time. The "re-meet-cute" section is quite clever, and, of course, turns out to be not nearly as clear-cut for Tim as it was originally.
As Tim's father mentions when he first tells Tim about the ability, their time traveling does not trigger major "butterfly effect"s, but that doesn't mean that every change doesn't have its reverberations across other aspects of Tim's own life. At one point, Tim decides to reveal his time travel ability to his sister (Lydia Wilson) and give her a chance to go back in time with him, so she can nip something in the bud that turned out to be long-term bad news for her. She goes with him and ends up dodging a major emotional bullet, but then Tim finds out the changes these new events have on his own personal life are too drastic for him to handle. So he has to go back in time and unmake the offer to his sister. Tim seems to be perpetually learning throughout the film that there are certain thresholds in life that aren't worth uncrossing.
Curtis, who achieved international renown for his Oscar-nominated script for Four Weddings and a Funeral, is still fascinated by these two particular life events. Tim and Mary's rain-soaked wedding is the laugh-out-loud comedic highlight of the film, which probably explains why it made the poster for the movie despite having nothing to do with time travel. And later, Tim is forced to confront the death of his father (I don't consider this a spoiler, since it's in the trailer). After his dad has died, Tim is able to travel back to the times when the old man was still alive and spend time with him -- he even gets to describe the funeral to his father -- just as long as Tim doesn't pass another major threshold in "real" time. The impending birth of Tim's third child becomes a kind of countdown clock, because once the child is born, Tim can't go into the past without unwanted consequences. Nighy and Gleeson are brilliant in these father-son moments, and their final scenes together are probably the film's most tearjearking.
About Time is essentially a time travel movie that doesn't believe in the need for time travel. For instance, some might argue that it's unfair that Mary never knows that her husband can travel in time and has been shaping their shared destiny for years. But the case that the film presents is that Tim is never abusing his ability; he doesn't do Mary wrong and then make up for it with a quick jaunt back in time. There are plenty of things that time travel simply can't fix for Tim; it's not an escape hatch from all the problems of living. The film forces Tim to lead his life as a responsible man, whose choices affect the fabric of all his relationships. You know, like it is for everybody in modern society.
About Time doesn't spend a lot of time dwelling on pain. Its main interest is adding a sense of wonder to the seeming drudgeries of everyday life. In that respect, it feels like a fairy tale. Nonetheless, the film rings true more often than false. Buoyed by the lead performances by Gleeson and McAdams, and filled out by an exemplary supporting cast, About Time is a joy to watch. If you have any tendencies at all toward crying at movies, you're going to need to keep the box of tissues handy.
About Time comes packaged with both the Blu-ray and a DVD copy, plus a code to get an iTunes-compatible download or Ultraviolet streaming version. The BD and DVD share a number of special features, although the BD has a few (mediocre) exclusive bonuses.
Pretty much perfect. The detail in the AVC-encoded 1080p 2.40:1 image is exactly what you would want from a brand-new major studio release. The light often has a yellow, honey-ish quality, but skin tones look good and all the colors are nicely saturated. I did notice a little noise and clipping in one shot that was pointed straight at a bright white window, but otherwise I found no flaws in the transfer.
As with the video, the audio is exactly what you would hope for from a big release like this. The English 5.1 DTS-HD MA audio track is excellent. Obviously, there aren't any explosions and there's very little violence in the film, but the surround channels manage to guide us through the world of the film. There's a particular series of sounds the audience comes to associate with Tim's time travel, and in a few clever instances, the filmmakers rely on the soundtrack to let the audience know that Tim has just altered events. The dialogue and music have a pleasing fullness and unobscured clarity. Just a great track altogether. The disc also comes with French and Spanish DTS Digital Surround 5.1 tracks, plus an English Dolby 2.0 DVS track for the blind. There are English SDH, plus French and Spanish subtitles.
- Audio commentary by writer-director Richard Curtis and actors Domhnall Gleeson, Bill Nighy, Vanessa Kirby, Lydia Wilson, and Tom Hollander - Rachel McAdams is conspicuous by her absence, but director Curtis and the rest of the actors make for a more than enjoyable and informative track. Memorable tidbits include the revelation that a brief shot of parking a car was the most dangerous moment on the shoot because Margot Robbie (The Wolf of Wall Street), who plays an early crush of Tim's, had never driven before. Also Curtis points out an extra who had to stand still for about six hours during shooting for what amounts to a few seconds of barely noticeable screen time.
- Deleted Scenes with introductions by Richard Curtis (HD, 15:33) - These can be played separately or together. While none of these scenes are total clunkers, they all seem like pretty logical excisions. One charming, elaborate sequence involves Tim's attempt to drive Mary to the hospital so she can give birth, only to be thwarted by tourists blocking up Abbey Road by attempting to recreate the Beatles' album cover.
- Blooper Reel: Making Movies Is A Serious Business (HD, 3:16) - Exactly what you'd expect. Although the reel is actually only about 2 minutes long, because Curtis takes up a good minute-plus in his intro discussing the notion that whether or not people had fun on set has little bearing on whether or not the movie will turn out well.
- About Tim and Time Travel (Blu-ray exclusive, HD, 5:13) - Curtis discusses the origins of the story, and his interest in exploring a character who used time travel to better appreciate everyday living. Like most of the featurettes, it's not awful but it is frustrating in its inability to do more than scratch the surface of its topic.
- The Look, Style, and Location (Blu-ray exclusive, HD, 8:13) - This featurette is a little meatier, exploring some of the locations where the film was shot, but it's a shame this slightly deeper approach wasn't taken with a less tangential aspect of the film.
- The World of Richard Curtis (Blu-ray exclusive, HD, 3:55) - This is mostly just a series of testimonials about the writer-director. With a title like that, it's a real letdown, because Curtis's career would make for a cool 20-minute featurette. There is the revelation, however, that About Time is intended as Curtis's swan song.
- "The Luckiest" Music (HD, 2:18) - A blink-and-you'll-miss-it piece that mentions that Ben Folds re-recorded his song "The Luckiest" for inclusion in the film.
- Ellie Goulding "How Long Will I Love You?" Music Video (HD, 2:51) - A video for Goulding's cover of The Waterboys' song, which is featured on the film's soundtrack.
About Time is a good, sentimental time at the movies, and an excellent capper to Richard Curtis's career, if he really does retire. The Blu-ray looks and sounds excellent, though many of the bonus features are unfortunately quite shallow. Nonetheless, the movie is incentive enough. Highly Recommended.
Justin Remer is a filmmaker, oddball musician, and frequent wearer of beards. Check out his random movie thoughts on Twitter: http://twitter.com/bottomofqueue