Tim Lake (Domhnall Gleeson) is a 21-year-old who is told by his father (Bill Nighy) that the men in his family have the gift of time-travel. He can’t change history, but can alter the course of his own life. As most young men would, he uses the chance to find himself a girlfriend. Then he loses her, due to a time travel blip. So he has to meet her again, until he gets it right.
Domhnall Gleeson (Harry Potter, Dredd)
Rachel McAdams (Sherlock Holmes, Midnight in Paris)
Tom Hollander (Rev, Pirates of the Caribbean)
Directed by: Richard Curtis (Four Weddings and a Funeral, Notting Hill)
Written By: Richard Curtis (Four Weddings and a Funeral, Notting Hill)
This is billed as “A new funny film about love. With some time travel”. And that’s really how you have to see it, all the way through. If you start trying to apply logic to any of the time-travelling, you will be sorely disappointed. It’s not until halfway through that they even sort out one of the basics – whether jumping back in time means he has to start again from the point he jumps back to or whether he can jump “back to the future” again. It was the scene with the best men that had me wondering – was he really reliving a few months’ worth of time every time he changed his mind? Later scenes suggested not, but that doesn’t really explain how he avoided missing the first few weeks of his relationship with Mary – if you go back and change it so you get the girl, presumably when you leap forward again you’ve got the girl? But then if you time travel again in between to sort out your “performance” (ahem!) does that mean you lose the ability to go back to where you started? And the whole thing about not going back past the birth of your children or you’ll alter them is ludicrous – surely you can’t go back past the conception?! He does know that babies don’t pick their gender on the way out, right?!
Oh look….I did it. I tried to apply logic. Don’t do that –therein lies madness, and it will spoil your enjoyment of a perfectly nice and quite funny film about the typical Richard Curtis themes of love and relationships.
And time-travel aside, it is a fairly classic Curtis film. There is no denying that his films star a certain type, and Domhnall Gleeson fits well into that type. When he’s doing voiceovers, you’d swear it was Hugh Grant. Rachel McAdams is wide-eyed and cute as love interest Mary, and you’d have to hope that she never discovers that their whole relationship was engineered on trickery and lies. It’s good to see fresh leads that haven’t already been in every other Richard Curtis film. But as ever, it’s the supporting cast that makes it work well. There’s not enough of Bill Nighy, but what we get is perfect (especially the dancing). There are uncredited cameos from Richard E.Grant and the late, great Richard Griffiths, which are a bit of a treat. But my favourite character has to be Tom Hollander’s grumpy playwright Harry. You expect him to mellow, as Curtis characters often do, but no – he is still an arse, and I love him. So different to his “Rev” character.
The story lacks focus, again in a typically Curtis way. It’s not really about Tim and Mary getting together, nor is it really about Tim’s relationship with his family. It’s a bit of a mash of both. There’s no overall story arc – it’s just some things that happen, which then get undone and happen in a slightly different way. Fans of Curtis’ other work will notice plenty of similarities here – the American love interest is reminiscent of “Four Weddings and a Funeral”, as is the messed-up sister character. The trying-on dresses scene also had some resemblance to the wedding dress shopping of that film. But luckily, they chose to not harp on about how she was American and how funny it was that Americans were so different to British people, as they did in “Four Weddings”. But make no mistake – the British clichés you’d expect were all present and correct in this film. From the idea that we all have wealthy parents with extensive libraries and tennis courts, to the constant references to tea and rain this was another Very British production from Curtis. He does know that no-one actually talks like the characters in his films, doesn’t he? And that a family house in Bayswater is way beyond the reach of even a fairly successful lawyer/publisher combo? But that’s part of the appeal of Richard Curtis films – he sells a lifestyle that people want to buy into for a few hours, even if they’re normally excluded from that lifestyle by nationality or wealth. And so yes, there’s all the awkward sex scenes, emotional repression and posh swearing that you could ever hope for.
And logical flaws also abound, time travel aside. When they dash off to Cornwall, what do they do with the kids? And why has Dans Le Noir been transplanted from Farringdon to Carnaby Street? I’m guessing it was because of the horrible amounts of construction work around Farringdon at the moment, but it did bug me and I suspect it will bug other Londoners. Filming a whole scene (indeed a pivotal scene) in the pitch blackness of Dans Le Noir was a brave move, however – it’s not the most cinematic of locations, and the audience were starting to get twitchy at having nothing to look at. My other nitpick would be the saucy pregnant-lady-with-flat-belly striptease. Pregnancy is just not like that. Maybe I’ve been unlucky both times I’ve been pregnant, but there wasn’t a single moment in either where I was both flat-stomached and frisky. More like nauseous and/or bloated. But those are just my personal nitpicks. Others may not care.
What others might care about is the schmaltz level which, as with all Curtis films, sometimes get pushed a little too high. You get the sense that he’s forever trying to make you cry, but for me that only happened towards the end (and trust me, I’m an easy crier). The constant feeling that you should be pushed to tears is a bit irritating, and I may have only cried begrudgingly because the ending was a bit close to real life. But generally, the sickliness/over-emotionalness is kept fairly restrained. It’s only the montage right at the end that had me (mentally) screaming “Too much! Too feel-good!” But generally it’s a fairly funny, fairly controlled, fairly good film.
Watch if: You enjoy gentle tales of love and life.
Don’t watch if: You’re interested in the technicalities of time travel
Overall rating: 7/10
Kate Milner – @LondonWAToddler