Audrey Kupferberg: Richard Curtis’ ABOUT TIME
The works of British producer, writer, director Richard Curtis express feelings about love and the human condition in a unique way. Curtis is a topnotch student of life on our complicated planet. At times his take is so bittersweet and yet so comedic that he seems to have Charlie Chaplin whispering in his ear. But it’s not the Chaplin of the 1920s; Curtis knows modern life.
He’s the creative force behind such classics as LOVE ACTUALLY and FOUR WEDDINGS AND A FUNERAL, as well as THE VICAR OF DIBLEY and BLACK ADDER series.
The latest feature film from Richard Curtis is called ABOUT TIME, and it was recently released to DVD and Blu-ray. In an early scene in ABOUT TIME, a loving father informs his rather awkward but lovable son on his 21st birthday that he now has the ability to travel back in time. In a conventional time-travel film, the audience might expect to see a modern guy choosing to hook up with King Arthur or Marilyn Monroe, relive a day from his childhood, or witness Babe Ruth hitting a key homerun over the wall in Yankee Stadium.
This is not the story of ABOUT TIME. In this film, the son uses his new power to replay and adjust moments in life. It’s a film that emphasizes interesting characters, strong personalities, and the vulnerability of these peoples’ attempts to get the most out of life. The son, played by Irish actor Domhnall Gleeson, whom many will remember as Bill Weasley in HARRY POTTER AND THE DEATHLY HALLOWS, starts out as a goofy young man whose interests are those of a youngster. As the film unfolds and the son enters young manhood, his character gains maturity and backbone, and his time travel becomes more intelligently determined and meaningful.
It’s a screenplay filled with comedy, romance, and many moments of deep human feeling, and the casting is flawless. Bill Nighy, who has been affiliated with Richard Curtis in such projects as LOVE ACTUALLY, THE GIRL IN THE CAFÉ, and PIRATE RADIO, breathes life into the character of the father. Rachel McAdams, who has been seen in many films from MEAN GIRLS, MIDNIGHT IN PARIS and the recent big-screen SHERLOCK HOLMES films, as well as the cult TV series SLINGS AND ARROWS, plays a key role.
There are a host of recognizable British talents in this film, but the standout player is Domhnall Gleeson. So much of the film depends upon his ability to turn the awkwardness of youth into a full-blown caring adult character. Gradually, his role changes from that of a silly youth into a rather charming and intelligent family man and professional. It’s a challenging role, and Gleeson nails it.
Films with the grace and soul of ABOUT TIME are not common in today’s marketplace. ABOUT TIME does not rely on special effects to show the excitement of time travel. Instead, a strong screenplay with well written characters simply employs time travel to convey the fragility and happenstance of our lives.
Audrey Kupferberg is a film and video archivist and appraiser. She teaches film studies at the University at Albany and has co-authored several entertainment biographies with her husband and creative partner, Rob Edelman.
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