Movie Post: About Time written and directed by Richard Curtis

About Time is largely advertised  as being from the makers of Notting Hill, Love Actually, and Four Weddings and a Funeral. And the film nods politely to all three of its ancestors.  Notting Hill and Four Weddings and a Funeral were carried by Hugh Grant’s bumbling and boyish charm, and Love Actually by Bill Nighy’s performance as an over-the-hill rock-singer, as well as a packet of sweet and moving love stories.

About Time capitalizes on both.  Like Hugh Grant, Domhnall Gleeson is all boyishness and sweetness and bumbling good will. Without the classic handsomeness of Grant, Gleeson’s is a more affecting, more real character. The same can be said of his love interest played by Rachel McAdams. Her simple beauty is open and fresh and void of Hollywood sheen. And together they make a couple we might know, whom we like and root for.

But it is Bill Nighy who anchors the piece.  Has Nighy  become the go-to-guy when someone needs a somewhat eccentric, aging British male, who is always ready to give the finger to the establishment and to all that it expects of him?  If so, he does it wonderfully. (See his character in Love Actually, Pirate Radio, even the Last Marigold Hotel).

Bill Nighy (August 16, 2012 - Source: PacificCoastNews.com)

Bill Nighy
(August 16, 2012 – Source: PacificCoastNews.com)

At first, the plot sounds a bit of a stretch–on New Year’s day of his 21st year, a young man Tim (Gleeson) is told by his father (Nighy) that the men in their family have the ability to travel in time. This is not H.G. Wells science-fiction stuff, however, simply the ability to return to a moment and correct any faux pas that one might have made.  You know those moments that only after they have passed do you realize what you should have said, should have done? (The French have a phrase for those moments–l’esprit de l’escalier.)  Well, what Tim’s father is giving him is the chance to always go back and say or do that right thing, make that suave gesture, deliver that saving grace.

Dubious of his father’s newly shared secret, Tim tests his new power immediately by returning to the previous night’s New Year’s Eve party where he had slighted a young woman at midnight (a slight that had him tossing in his sleep all night long.)  He is able to correct what happened and is rewarded by a smile on the young woman’s face where there had once been pain.

The remainder of the film follows Tim as he courts Mary (McAdams), prevents disasters for his roommate, and tries to save his sister’s descent into a damaging and abusive relationship.  His attempts are charming and amusing–his first night with Mary is filled with many “do-overs” until he has it down perfectly–and the goodness and sincerity of his wishes are heartwarming.

Rachel McAdams and Donhail Gleeson in About Time Photo by Murray Close - © 2013 - Universal Pictures

Rachel McAdams and Domhnall Gleeson
in About Time
Photo by Murray Close – © 2013 – Universal Pictures

But it is the eminent death of his father that is the most poignant.

Moving seamlessly from a cute romantic-comedy to a poignant examination of fatherhood and family, About Time surprises us with an emotional wallop that we weren’t really prepared for. But it works perfectly.  The father’s last request of sharing a time-travel with his son is beautifully filmed and presented.

Richard Curtis’s films are regularly sweet confections, mixed with a comforting dollop of poignancy. (Who could forget the recitation of Auden’s “Funeral Blues” during the one funeral in Four Weddings and a Funeral?) With About Time, Curtis has perfected his style. It is a funny, romantic and sweet film…but what separates it from the rest of the pack is a certain emotional sophistication.

I think it is a beautiful film.

Here’s the trailer.

About Time

Movie Review: The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel…meh

A handful of retirees move to India because elder-care is cheaper there and recent events have altered their vision of what their lives would be like back home in England.  And so separately they move to the Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, advertised for the beautiful and the elderly… a hotel which is still in the early stages of reconstruction.

I wanted to like this film very much.

Afterall, there were magnificent actors:

 Judi Dench
Bill Nighy
Maggie Smith
Tom Wilkerson
Dev Patel
Celie Imrie
Penelope Wilton
Ronald Pickup

There were touching and interesting stories:

• A gay man returning to find an ex-love he believed he had ruined
• A widowed woman trying to be responsible for herself for the first time in forty years
• Young lovers being thwarted by a mother’s demand on arranged marriage
• A decent husband battered by an over-demanding, narrow-minded wife
• A woman wanting one last try at romance
• A man wanting one last try at romance
• Another woman wanting one last try at romance
• A bigoted woman going to India for a hip replacement because she can’t wait for the NHS
• A couple who lost everything in bad investments

And there was extraordinary photography and marvelous settings.

And yet, it all seemed too much…it all seemed to run together.  The film couldn’t seem to decide whether it wanted to be a mad-cap comedy, a fish-out-of-water study, a sentimental love story, a heart-breaking love story, a droll study of old imperialists visiting a once held colony, a humorous clash of cultures. It seem to need a tighter focus.

There is a point made in the film that India is a barrage on the senses; sounds, smells, tastes, sights, textures all come crashing upon the visitor in a way that is often overwhelming.  This seems to describe The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel as well. There was just much too much.

Did I enjoy it?  Yes, it was enjoyable.

Will I forget it? Yes, it is forgettable.