Monday, November 11, 2013

About Time, A Review

After watching Thor: The Dark Elves Strike Back, I went to watch the new Richard Curtis movie, About Time. Due to non-optimized starting times, I missed the first few minutes of the film, but  I'm pretty sure not very much of it.

So Richard Curtis is dear to me for Love, Actually and the Doctor Who episode about Vincent van Gogh. I am not a fan of either Four Weddings and a Funeral, or of Notting Hill. And despite my affection for Love, Actually, I do recognize that it is--at best--wildly uneven.

I saw a trailer for this film back in June, in front of the JJ Abrams Much Ado About Nothing, and at the time it looked scientifically formulated for my movie going nutritional requirements. There was a decided rom-com feel to it, as Domhall Gleeson wooed Rachel McAdams, who is delightful and wonderful. It has a oh-so-clever concept--the men of the family can time-travel, which Gleeson used to improve his social awkwardness so that he could successfully woo Rachel McAdams. As you would. And it started Bill Nighy as his dad.

The trailer was a better movie than the movie.

I was hoping for something that would be emotional and wonderful like the book The Time Traveler's Wife (I never saw the movie. I believe that was the right decision.) Instead, it was--negligible? Barely integrated into the plot? Awkward and kind of obnoxiously privileging?

Most of the time, when he goes back to re-try something that didn't go so well, he does things just a bit better--introducing himself to Rachel McAdams takes a couple of tries before it goes right, and their first sexual encounter is improved upon by the third try. None of these things is really life altering--most people manage to get their own second or third try by actually trying two or three times, without any high concept time travel.

Then, once he's got her for his girlfriend, there are loooooooong portions of the movie where there is no  reason, so no time travel at all. In fact, his relationship with Rachel McAdams is just normal stuff. Meet the parents. Get engaged. Have a wedding. Have a baby. Have two babies. Buy a house. Without the time travel, easily 60% of this movie would have been exactly the same.

In once case, he sees the woman "fell in love with" three years previously--a woman who was so breathtakingly gorgeous that she obviously had to handle that kind of (unwanted) attention from men every day of her life. She let him down--nicely, but decidedly. Three years later, he uses his time travel skills to try again.  Which, excuse me? He would cheat on Rachel McAdams? Not good, movie.

In the end, he doesn't, but he did try, using time travel to increase his chances several times, making four or five decisions that were designed to cheat on Rachel McAdams. So screw you movie--this is not romantic and he is not a good person. This is not a rom com, it's about an obnoxious man who gets to have his cake and eat it too.

He's also got a pretty serious case of White Knight syndrome, as he runs around "fixing" things for all kinds of people. He "fixes" the performances of a couple of actors who have forgotten their lines on opening night. He tries to "fix" his sister's propensity for picking Very Bad Boyfriends by manipulating her choices through time travel. Again--kind of entitled and obnoxious, and utterly dependent on us believing that he knows better than anybody else how their lives should run. And that it is his obligation to interfere as directly as possible.

The climax of the movie revolves around the death of his father, Bill Nighy. Which is pretty tragic, you have to admit. A world without Bill Nighy in it is a diminished world indeed. On the day of the funeral, he travels back to talk with his dad, which is nice for him, but everybody else in the family has to actually grieve--and we're supposed to be invested in this guy, who hasn't really lost anything, so long as he can time travel back and have special father-son times.

After the funeral, his gorgeous wife (Rachel McAdams--did I tell you that already?) suggests that she'd like a third child. And this--THIS--is the moment of manpain for Our Hero. Because due to some time travel mumbo-jumbo, if he travels back before the birth of his children, when he comes back, they might be different kids. The specific sperm that created the child in one time stream might not be the same one in the new time. So if he goes ahead and has another child, he can't keep going back to visit his dad.

"If I was going to choose the future, I was going to have to let go of the past" he emotes in voice-over, and at this point I'm screaming in my brain "JOIN THE REST OF THE HUMAN RACE, YOU ENTITLED JERKFACE!" I mean, grow up! Everybody else in the known universe has to give up the past--it's not your unique dilemma!

So right before Rachel McAdams goes into labor, he goes back to visit his dad one last time. And Dad completely subverts the entire premise of the movie by asking if they can take one last walk together--and they go back in time when Domhall Gleeson WAS A KID. BEFORE ANY OF HIS CHILDREN WERE BORN. But he gets to go back to the same family he left, and has a sappy coda about how you live each day twice--once with all the usual petty irritations, and once making a point of appreciating all the good moments.

The final voice over informs us that he doesn't even do that anymore, because life is so great he doesn't need to. He's capable of enjoying living LIKE THE REST OF US SAD BASTARDS DO WHO CAN'T TIME TRAVEL. Oh my god, the condescension! The patronizing tone! He's got the True Path and he's letting us in on it--move forward in time one day at a time and appreciate it.

I think my grandmother had something like that embroidered on a tea towel in her kitchen. It is not earth-shattering news, Richard Curtis.

This is not a movie I will be revisiting again.

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