The Review: There’s two ways you can travel in time in movies: the bold, brash way to arrive in style, like a modified Delorean (Back To The Future), a massive ball of electrical energy (The Terminator) or an electrified phone booth (Bill and Ted), or there’s the British way, typically through a small dark portal (Time Bandits) or by going to the toilet (FAQ About Time Travel). Richard Curtis’ new time travel film takes this to a new low of British restraint, where Bill Nighy announces to his son Tim (Domnhall Gleason) that men in the family have the ability to travel in time, by standing in a dark place, clenching their fists and concentrating. Now admittedly time travel movies are rarely about the mechanics of time travel itself and more about the implications, but there’s undoubtedly something very British about a method of time travel that could only be more understated and stereotypically British if it involved sighing forlornly while drinking a cup of tea. But time travel movies are two a penny, so the key is to deliver something new with it, and when the likes of Duncan Jones gave us the highly original Source Code two years ago, that’s no easy task. Two years ago… Oh, let’s not start that again. In fact, let’s start again.
[hides in cupboard and clenches fists]
Richard Curtis is the writer of the finest British comedy of the last thirty years. It’s called Blackadder, and I still regard career misanthrope and wrangler of cunning plans Edmund Blackadder as some sort twisted role model. Richard Curtis has also written a story involving time travel that successfully tackled serious issues in a thought provoking manner but still managed to be charming and fluffy, with an awkward leading man who might just be an archetypal British eccentric. It’s called Vincent And The Doctor, an episode of Doctor Who from 2010 that showcased how Curtis can push the boundaries of his own writing if he puts his mind to it. Richard Curtis even co-wrote two episodes of Blackadder that featured some form of time travel (Christmas Carol and Back And Forth), so quite why or how he’s managed to come up with a time travel film that doesn’t do a single original thing with the concept, or feature any significant laughs, is bemusing to say the least. Actually, About Time is more of a comedy drama than a straight-up comedy… Balls, gone wrong again. Do over!
[hides in cupboard and clenches fists]
Anyone reading this blog for any length of time will be aware that I often start my reviews with some form of personal insight as a prelude to my thoughts on the film. With a film such as About Time, that proves somewhat tricky, as the core relationship in the film isn’t actually Tim’s slightly creepy, stalkerish pursuit of Mary (Rachel McAdams), but instead his relationship with his father. Gleason and Nighy don’t exactly have a strong family resemblance – maybe Tim gets more from his mother, Lindsay Duncan, but surely the genetics of that would impact on the time travel? – but as someone whose father divorced his mother at the age of seven and effectively disappeared out of my life (me, not him, obviously), films built on strong father / son relationships are always likely to strike a raw nerve. If I was examining familial relations with time travel, I might not be pulling a McFly and inadvertently wooing my own mother, but I’d love to get more insight into my own father and his particular motivations, but that doesn’t interest Richard Curtis either. Not sure where I’m going with this. Bugger. One more try.
[hides in cupboard and clenches fists]
So I’ve now got one paragraph left to tell you about Richard Curtis’ film About Time, starring Domnhall Gleason, Rachel McAdams and Bill Nighy. Gleason is one of those British actors who has managed to do brilliant work on the periphery of some quality films in the past few years (Dredd, Never Let Me Go, True Grit, Anna Karenina and even a couple of Harry Potters) but comes into his own here, producing a warmer and more likeable Curtis lead than even Hugh Grant ever managed, but with that same bumbling awkwardness that’s quintessentially Curtis. In fact, almost every trope and plot point of About Time is very Curtisian, that British middle-class state that exists in Curtis’s films and almost nowhere else. What this has done is to have matured slightly, both in world view and in the quality of the production, feeling less staged and noticeably warmed by the presence of its three leads. It feels like a Richard Curtis film that’s trying not to look like a Richard Curtis film, but paradoxically ends up being about as clear an example of the genre as film Curtis has made. It’s a warm comfort blanket of a film, and if you’ve overdosed already on the saccharine output of Mr Curtis over the years then this won’t win you over, but if you’re looking to be cinematically cuddled rather than challenged then this has arrived in the nick of time.
Why see it at the cinema: It’s Curtis’ best looking film to date in respect of both cinematography and the charmingly cute appeal of his cast. Yes, even Bill Nighy.
What about the rating: Rated 12A for infrequent strong language and moderate sex references. Slight issue here. We’re averaging around one “f***” every twenty-five minutes, pushing the boundaries of what’s acceptable to accompanied children under 12. Said children will also get repeated shots of Rachel McAdams in her bra and knickers and an extended, enthusiastic sex scene. I would be uncomfortable taking younger children to see this, because I’m a middle class prude who’s not as liberal as he’d like to be, but I personally would have put this at 15.
My cinema experience: Seen at a Cineworld Unlimited preview evening in Bury St. Edmunds, and after a showing of 2 Guns the previous week was full, I was surprised to see About Time with spaces in the audience. (Maybe it was too early for word of mouth to have built.) Lots of generally middle-class tittering but no huge laughs for the audience, who were also spared any projection or sound issues.
The Score: 7/10
The Review: Ah, remakes of French movies. Who can forget Three Men and a Baby, The Birdcage, Three Fugitives, er… Just Visiting… Every culture has its own sense of humour and style, and these don’t always travel well. So it’s a good idea for such remakes to put something of their own national style onto the bones of the structure, and this reworking of the French black comedy Ciblé emouvante, all of seventeen years old now, tends slightly more towards farce, although some slightly black comedic elements remain, and the two can in theory sit well together.
And there’s no faulting the ambition of the casting director. In addition to the three headliners, support from the likes of Rupert Everett and Martin Freeman lends the whole enterprise an air of credibility – at least until you remember that Al Pacino and Christopher Walken were in Gigli, so there are no guarantees in this life. But the weight of the movie rests firmly with Bill Nighy and Emily Blunt. The former is a model of restraint, layering character details carefully onto his mannered and largely restrained performance; the latter is the sparkle that more often than not keeps things interesting, flirting and wiggling her way through, a nymphomaniac, kleptomaniac charmer who’s out of her depth, but just keeps swimming anyway. Disappointingly, Rupert Grint seems destined to be making a career of adding 10% to the gross of movies that Ron Weasley die-hards wouldn’t otherwise have seen, and gets to do little of interest.
Where the movie is less successful is in moving the plot forward. The set-up brings the three leads together, somewhat unconvincingly, but then the nature of their first meeting then requires them to sit and wait for the plot to come to them, then run away when it does, rinse and repeat. So it does become more about the characters and the smaller details, and there are some wonderful smaller moments, but also some dreadful ones (and if you don’t plant your face in your palm when one of the characters mistakenly eats pot pourri, you’re reading the wrong review).
Sadly, the real factor which keeps this from being anything better than average is the pedestrian direction (would you want “From the director of My Cousin Vinny and the remake of Sgt. Bilko” on your poster?), which has the amateur-dramatic feel of too much mid-range British comedy, and doesn’t help serve any kind of momentum. Overall, Wild Target is quietly and sporadically enjoyable (put that on the poster – I dare you), with just enough to satisfy curiosity, but it rarely flies, and sadly too often… sorry, couldn’t resist… misses the target.
Why see it at the cinema: We can only hope that supporting this will give Nighy and Blunt the chance to be in better material at a cinema near you soon. And if you’re into Ron Weasley, you do see him with his shirt off. (Not sure if that’s a recommendation or not…)
The Score: 5/10