Each December, we bust out the holiday cheer, from obnoxious Christmas music to Love Actually on a loop. I’m all about this — I usually leave my tree up until my January birthday — but I start with a different movie: About Time.
From Love Actually writer-director Richard Curtis, About Time is comparatively trimmed down, following the life of Tim (Domhnall Gleeson), the young son in a family where the men can travel through time. There are no other sci-fi frills (and probably some plot holes as a result, but who cares!), since as Tim’s father (Bill Nighy) notes, they can’t change anything outside their own lives.
Instead, we watch Tim try to make the most of his existence, not with money or glory but with happiness, plain and pure.
I’ve loved About Time probably since I saw the trailer in 2013. It was the first movie I saw in theaters after moving to New York that fall, with an old friend and diehard movie buff who was seeing it for a second time. We saw it just after Thanksgiving, which gave it a built-in holiday association for me.
As with Curtis’ previous work, what that truly stands out is the writing – specifically the dialogue, which is unique a way that reflects, you know, how people actually talk, but remains memorable in its specificity (“She wasn’t like other mums. There was something solid about her, rectangular”).
Because Tim grew up by the sea in Cornwall, much of the film occupies its own world, and the parts that take place in London are evergreen, unencumbered by technology or pop culture references.
Like Love Actually, About Time has some issues. After a lovely meet cute with Mary (Rachel McAdams), Tim loses her number and has to meet her again for the first time. He’s just a tad creepy (Gleeson’s mopey innocence works extremely in his favor here), crashing a party just to run into her and parroting her own views about Kate Moss to pique her interest. But we understand from that first meeting that they genuinely share a connection and have something worth exploring. If it weren’t for timing, they’d be together — and timing is one thing on Tim’s side.
(There is also something just off about watching him relive the first time they have sex until he’s performed to his satisfaction – perhaps the borderline manic enthusiasm of the third attempt, which would have to alarm Mary since it was the first time for her.)
Though marketed as a rom-com, About Time is about family, and it’s about life. You start with Tim’s nuclear family and their idyllic life in Cornwall, then to his found family in London. The father-son relationship is particularly poignant, thanks in no small part to Nighy’s wonderfully dry, supremely British performance as a father who’s more likely to heckle than emote but somehow manages to convey the same amount of love. I remember laughing at my friend for crying at this in the theater, and now it makes me tear up every time.
You hit the big notes with Tim – marriage, childbirth, tragedy – and and watch him learn to take life one day at a time, to appreciate the little things as they come.
When I see this movie, I see the major moments in my life, whether or not they’ve happened yet. I feel that feeling you only get between Thanksgiving and New Year’s, when winter is still welcome and magical and new. I remember my friend and the promise of New York, and for a few days, at least, I remember to cherish the little moments that make every day special.
About Time is now streaming on HBO Now.