Opens Fri., Nov. 1 at Thornton Place and other theaters. Rated R. 123 minutes.
If Woody Allen can leaven his comedies with supernatural gimmicks, why can’t Richard Curtis? The British author of Love Actually and Four Weddings and a Funeral has built his latest project around time travel, but Curtis isn’t interested in the vasty reaches of future worlds or anything like that. His focus remains romance, played out on a modest scale.
On his 21st birthday, Tim Lake (Domhnall Gleeson) is taken aside by his father (Bill Nighy) and informed of the family gift: The Lake men can time-trip. There are temporal restrictions, but basically Tim can go back and fix past errors by going into a dark closet and thinking hard about the previous moment in question. This is especially helpful during his courtship of Mary (Rachel McAdams), a cute and funny catch who seems to love him as much as he loves her. This is one of the odd notes about About Time: The central romance pretty much goes swimmingly. There aren’t that many bumps in the road, and Tim’s ability to go back and revise the past means he can wriggle out of most awkward situations. A couple of weird butterfly-effect incidents require extra effort, but the love story itself is smooth sailing, for a romantic comedy.
Curtis is as skillful with deft one-liners and a prone to mawkishness as ever. Toward the end of About Time, as though sensing the blandness of the central couple, he steers the film back toward father and son. This gives a nice opening to Nighy (when is this cagey pro going to get his first Oscar nomination?), but it makes way for beer-commercial sentimentality, too. McAdams fulfills the dream-girl outline with ease. (Curtis has realized you can’t write British dialogue for an American—or in this case, Canadian. I still feel bad for Andie MacDowell in Four Weddings, trying to make London syntax work with her flat Yankee accent.)
One of the movie’s pleasures—and it does have them—is the chance to watch an actor take his first leading-man shot. Gleeson, who was quite good in the otherwise misbegotten Anna Karenina, looks like a young Michael Caine but with half the aggression. His father is Brendan Gleeson, the burly Irish master, and he has his father’s red hair and sly humor, if not his authority. But this movie doesn’t cry out for authority—just wispy, winking charm.