Chuck Koplinski: Romantic whimsy trumps logic in 'About Time'
As written and directed by the man who gave us "Love Actually," it comes as no surprise that Richard Curtis' new film "About Time" is long on charm and romance.
"Love Actually" has had a cult following in the 10 years since its release, and it's easy to see why. In a time of violence and cynicism, viewers have embraced its theme of hope and love in the face of adversity as if it were a life preserver in an ocean of despair.
It's delightful, earnest and satisfying entertainment, and Curtis does his level best to recreate "Love Actually's" magic in "About Time."
Though it does seem a bit forced at times, the filmmaker succeeds in capturing a bit of the romantic whimsy he has become known for. However, the premise upon which the story is based is a bit flimsy, and if too much attention is spent analyzing it, the whole movie collapses.
On his 21st birthday, Tim's (Domhnall Gleeson) father (Bill Nighy) tells him that the men in their family have the ability to travel through time.
All they have to do is go to a dark place, clinch their hands into fists, think about where they would like to go into the past, and voila! — they're there.
Thus, Tim has been given the gift of having a life of do-overs. If a first date goes awry, he can go back and give it another shot; if you want some extra time to read, as his father does, you can; if you want to prevent your troubled sister (Lydia Wilson) from meeting her abusive boyfriend, no problem.
All of these things occur at one point or another in the movie, but much of Tim's time tripping revolves around the love of his life, Mary. As played by Rachel McAdams, at her most luminous, who can blame him?
On paper, you wouldn't think to cast the actress opposite the gawky Gleeson (can't she can do better than this dweeb?), but the pairing works.
While the actor may not be of the hunky variety, Curtis wisely presents Tim as a morally sound man, putting him in a couple of situations in which he could use his gift to his advantage but doesn't; that he passes up the opportunity to sleep with his gorgeous ex-girlfriend, knowing his time-traveling abilities ensure that it remains unknown, will win over more than a few female viewers
The leads' eyes literally sparkle whenever they're together, convincing us they're smitten with each other. Their chemistry helps the film navigate over its numerous plot holes, as do the scenes between Gleeson and Nighy, whose father/son bond is perhaps the best thing in the film.
However, any logic employed to the movie's method of time travel reveals it for the faulty plot device it is. Any story of this sort invites scrutiny, and though I wanted to give myself over completely to its romantic notions, I couldn't help but be nagged by the many unanswered questions concerning Tim's gift:
— For example, if he and his father can both travel through time, won't their actions affect or negate what the other does? At one point, they acknowledge each other during one of Tim's journeys, thus raising a myriad of questions like this.
— And what about dotty Uncle Desmond (Richard Cordery), a good-hearted but not-all-there sort based on Charles Dickens' Mr. Dick from "David Copperfield?"
— If all the males in the family have this ability, what sort of havoc might he create?
— Should I care?
"About Time" is an entertainment that you're not supposed to think about as much as feel. Its ultimate lesson — that even though you might be able to travel through time, you should simply enjoy every day as it comes — is a bit naive as well as condescending. It's easy to subscribe to this when you're living an upper-middle-class lifestyle as its characters do.
However, it's to Curtis' credit that I nearly bought into this fantasy, wanting to believe that its romantic notions are, if not practical, possible.
'About Time' (2-1/2 stars out of 4)
Cast: Domhnall Gleeson, Rachel McAdams, Bill Nighy, Tom Hollander, Lydia Wilson, Lindsay Duncan, Margo Robbie, Richard Cordery and Margot Robbie.
Directed and written by Richard Curtis; produced by Tim Bevan and Eric Fellner.
A Working Titles Film release. 123 minutes. Rated R (language and some sexual content). At Carmike 13.
Also new in theaters
"Ender's Game" a pointed, cautionary tale. (3-1/2 stars) Having never read Orson Scott Card's "Ender's Game" and assuming that it was just another piece of vapid 'tween fiction, I was unprepared for the thorny moral issues at its core.
I had not anticipated thinking of Stanley Kubrick's "Paths of Glory" while seeing the film, but it crossed my mind on numerous occasions. Examining the price of warfare — both in human lives as well as how a government is perceived in the way it handles a threat — is the engine that drives this tale of state-sponsored paranoia and propaganda and the price that's paid when morality becomes the first casualty of war.
Set in the near future, the Earth is in a state of panic as an alien race known as the Formics are preparing a massive invasion or so say the intelligence reports that has Col. Graff (Harrison Ford) on edge. He and the rest of the military elite are desperately searching for a commander who can guide the planet's military might to victory against a foe that nearly devastated Earth 70 years earlier.
He finds him in the person of Ender Wiggin (Asa Butterfield), a messianic prodigy who has a penchant for being able to quickly assess a threat and devise strategies to defeat it while others are still tying their shoes. The 12-year-old is quickly taken into the cadet training program, where he undergoes a series of psychological tests that pit him against other candidates as well as push the limits of his skill.
It's impossible not to draw correlations between how the powers that be in the film react to the supposed threat and the manner in which the United States responded to terrorism after the attacks of 9/11. The fact that "Privacy Rights" are granted or rescinded smacks of the powers granted to the government under The Patriot Act, while the talk of taking pre-emptive strikes against the Formics recalls the sort of justification that led to the second Iraqi war. While these connections may seem obvious and Hood is nearly too heavy-handed in making them, it's to the film's credit that it doesn't shirk from introducing these themes to its potentially young audience.
If there's a fault in Gavin Hood's adaptation, it's that Ender's training goes on far too long, nearly preventing the film from establishing a sense of pace or urgency.
However, the veteran actors bring a complexity to their characters that's not often found in movies of this sort. Ford is his usual gruff self, but he's able to subtly convey a sense of fear and pragmatism that helps him avoid making Graff an unsympathetic character.
The always-reliable Viola Davis is on hand as well, as Maj. Anderson, who struggles to nurture Ender and meet his emotional needs though her callous superiors stymie her at every turn. Finally, Oscar winner Ben Kingsley makes a startling appearance as a legendary warrior who pushes Ender to the limit, never minding the psychological toll it may take on the young man.
The film ends on an optimistic, albeit tiny note, while our hero seems to be setting out on a fool's errand. This is as it should be, as "Ender's Game" is not intended to be a disposable entertainment but rather a thought-provoking, cautionary tale that reminds us that justifying a course of action for the greater good is often the road to ruin where governments are concerned.
While it may seem desirable in our era of rampant apathy to mobilize a nation's youth to better itself, forming a futuristic version of the Hitler Youth might not be the best idea.
For DVR alerts, film recommen-dations and movie news, follow Chuck Koplinski on Twitter at @ckoplinski. For his blog, head to http://www.news-gazette.com/blogs/cinema-scoping. Koplinski can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.