Thursday, August 15, 2013
'About Time' (2013) directed by Richard Curtis
Thursday, August 15, 2013 by londoncitynights
About Time is a film devoid of curiosity, wit and intelligence yet stuffed to the gills with unbearable schmaltz, whiny acoustic guitar music and cutesy dull rubbish. This is about as crap as it gets: two hours of not much happening to not very interesting people. Every moment the plot looks like it might head somewhere interesting the film shrugs its shoulders, does a U-turn and makes a beeline right back to Dullsville. I lost count of the times I muttered "for fuck's sake..." under my breath and sunk into my seat as the film obstinately refused to end.
It sounded like such a promising concept too. Our hero is Tim (Domhnall Gleason). He's an awkward young fumbly sort of guy, terrible around women, prone to tumbling right into embarrassing moments - knocking tables over or saying the exact wrong thing at the exact wrong time. But one day Tim's Dad (Bill Nighy) calls him into his study to tell him a very special family secret - the men in the family can travel in time. They just have to pop into a small dark space, ball their fists and whammo, they can travel back to any point in their lives and change things. Naturally Tim thinks his Dad is taking the piss, but a quick sojourn into the past and he realises the awesome potential of this gift. With time now as pliable as plasticine, Tim sets out to create a perfect life, able to fix every little awkward situation, social disaster or family crisis.
Almost as soon as the opening credits roll an incredible stink of privilege billows from the screen. Tim and his family are the elites of society, leading an idyllic life in a mansion perched on top of a Cornish cliff complete with a breathtaking view of the ocean. To put a cherry on top of this they appear to have a fucking private beach. As Tim grows up he moves to London and pursues a glittering career in finance law. This is the London of the 1% - dinner in chortlingly high-price novelty restaurants, cocktail parties in Chelsea townhouses, achingly boho flats in Kensington - the jingle jangle of easy, barely considered cash powering his every move. And, naturally considering this is a Richard Curtis film, everyone (and I mean everyone) is rich and overpoweringly white.
Tim leads a life completely inaccessible to 99% of the country, his every decision supported by tens of social and financial safety nets, his troubles petty and minor, his tastes refined and expensive. And this vile, consuming, wibblingly bourgeois sub-Hugh Granty creature also has the power to control time itself. If I didn't think Curtis was such a dolt I'd think he might be making some kind of commentary on the casual power with which the rich manipulate the lives of those around them, but sadly I think this is purely incidental to the story he's trying to tell.
Before we carry on let's take a deep breathe and consider the classical story structure of those granted incredible powers. Firstly, overwhelmed with their new power they get cocky and abuse it. Then follows the inevitable problems their cockiness has caused. Finally, they learn (as Spider-Man's Uncle Ben memorably said) "with great power comes great responsiblity" and begin to apply themselves as a force for good. Tim is stuck for the entire film in the first stage.
He is a complete amoral shit with his powers, using them to steal people's girlfriends, fuck up people's lives without them ever being able to know, shag women over and over and generally play puppetmaster to everyone around him. As he non-consensually fiddles with the minutia of people's lives you can almost hear him cackle "dance puppets, dance!" This isn't automatically a bad thing: a movie about a narcissistic time-travelling arsehole has dramatic potential. But About Time treats its manipulative tosser of a hero like the second coming of Christ, his every triumph well-deserved and moral, his fights just and his morals impeccably sound: as the film says "he's just got a kind heart".
Bull-fucking-shit! There's a telling line midway through where one of his friends in the legal profession marvels that Tim wins every single court case he's given. We're never given any inkling that he's some kind of legal wunderkund so the obvious implication is that he's travelling back in time and doing the cases over and over again until he gets the result he wants. Great if you're his client - a bit depressing if you happen to be against him and in the right. Sorry, fuck you, Tim wins no matter what.
This is such an unimaginative film and such a dull hero that he never gets a chance to commit true atrocities (though on reflection he does technically murder an infant). There are myriad fascinating story possibilities the film actively shies away from - like he's when given the chance to cheat on his girlfriend and nobly walks away. But what if he had done it and rewound time? Is it really cheating if it didn't really happen? It's a complex and interesting question, but About Time isn't about being complex and interesting, it's about being puke-inducing saccharine and dully bovine.
What I tried to keep in mind as I forlornly waited for something interesting to happen was that time travel mechanics and science fiction paradoxes aren't really the point. His ability is a form of wish-fulfilment for the audience, a metaphor for the regret and embarrassment we all have to deal with. But even on the level of imparting a moral message the film comes up woefully short. The best it can muster up at the end is "try to appreciate stuff". Nice one Curtis. I'll make some space on the shelf next to Plato, Descartes and Sartre for you.
About Time is a repellent, powerfully stupid piece of cinema. The only redeeming feature of it is that there's nothing wrong with the actual performances of the actors, so it earns a single star for that alone. This aside, About Time is a film made by a megalomaniac who has totally lost touch with how normal people act: the hero is a monster and the moral tone begins at despicable and goes downhill from there. This is a movie only someone ensconced in a diamond-encrusted, fanatically elitist existence would think was acceptable.
If I could travel back in time I'd recommend to Richard Curtis' mother that she have an abortion. If she agreed it would sadly mean no Blackadder. But it would also mean no About Time. That's a trade-off I'm willing to make.
About Time is on general release from 4th September