About Time is Richard Curtis’ latest directorial venture. It’s concerned with Tim, a young man from Cornwall who, upon turning twenty-one, is told by his father that all the men in their family have the ability to travel through time. It’s not clear why it’s only men, but then again most time travel narratives have male protags and waiting or unknowing women. They can’t affect anything grand, but they can change things within their own lives. Tim uses this power to embark on his mission to find a girlfriend.
This could have been icky, and there are times when Tim uses this power to meet his girlfriend “for the first time” over and over, using the knowledge about her that he has gained from other first times so as to be less awkward or more successful. It’s manipulative, so very manipulative, but also Curtis often has Tim’s efforts backfire. Tim’s girlfriend (and then wife), Mary, is played by Rachel McAdams, who is as winsome as ever. Although, wow, there’s a lot of Mary taking off her clothes for Tim (not the camera) and it all gets quite male gaze-y at times, on which more later. Anyway: I really liked that this film didn’t end with their getting married, but went on to show their love story as it blossomed into parenthood and complications.
And it isn’t all about their love story either, but about Tim’s family. How is he to handle his father’s decline? How may he use his powers to help his sister, Kat, out of an abusive relationship? The film complicates time travel paradoxes in this regard in some really interesting, and sad, ways. If you’re looking for cool workarounds for the science, this is not your movie: Tim’s dad, played by Bill Nighy, dismisses the grandfather paradox immediately. As far as the small-scale human tragedies and pleasures of time travel go, it’s well done. And it’s done in ways that escape the confines of your usual love story progression and plot structure, and not just linearly. It’s a story that works more like life than a movie.
Can we talk about the male gaze a bit? Because I think it’s something Curtis is trying to unsettle a little, and only partially succeeds with. The film is closely tied to Tim’s viewpoint, and we only manage to escape from it during a brief sequence in one of the “first times” when Mary, her boyfriend in that timeline, and a friend talk about how cute Tim is. When he escape Tim’s quest and perspective, it’s still all about him, and pretty shallow. That’s fair enough, because it is a film about Tim’s life, but there are times when it would be really helpful to the storytelling if Tim was decentred. This is particularly the case with how he helps his sister with her abusive relationship; he explores two alternative timelines of possibility, both of which are rather horrible, and eventually has to compromise to help her into a healthy relationship in ways that also undermine her agency. This subplot becomes Tim’s story of saving his sister rather than Kat’s story of the slightly odd and loving brother playing a supportive role in her achievement of escaping an abusive person and finding love.
Also, there are a lot of jokes that have sex workers as the punch line. It’s actually really odd, not only because it’s unkind and unfair, but because it’s really repetitive and bad storytelling. You would think someone would have picked up on that in the writing or editing, but apparently anti-sex worker sentiment is just that ubiquitous that it went over people’s heads.
It’s a film, perhaps you would like to see it. I’m glad I did, admittedly in part because it overwrote the film adaptation of The Time Traveller’s Wife in my brain a bit because McAdams also starred in that, and I had been so sad to see this lovely actress in such a saccharine adaptation of the truly excellent novel by Audrey Niffenegger. Ahem.