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NYFF Review: Time Travel Rom-Com ‘About Time’ Starring Rachel McAdams & Domnhall Gleeson

NYFF Review: Time Travel Rom-Com 'About Time' Starring Rachel McAdams & Domnhall Gleeson

We’ve sat through an entire generation of fantasy and science fiction films
about a protagonist gifted with extraordinary powers who first Resists, then
Accepts The Call, which almost always involves saving the world, defeating a
powerful villain, and re-establishing the status quo. Very rarely does anyone
seek a cause beyond preventing the apocalypse, placing them within a narrative
where they are rewarded not for being proactive, but rather reacting to the
latest large-scale disaster. Imagine where we’d be as a film society today if
Tobey Maguire’s Peter Parker fully dedicated himself to wrestling. Right off
the bat, the young lad at the center of Richard Curtis’ “About Time” does what
any of us would do if we were gifted with extraordinary powers: he tries to
romance Rachel McAdams.

It’s Tim’s twenty-first birthday when he’s given a most unusual gift from
his father: as it turns out, all the men in their family can travel through
time. The rules, as loosely explained by the freewheeling patriarch played by
Bill Nighy, are that Tim can only visit moments in his own past, though whether
he can influence the lives of others is (distressingly) fuzzy. Tim isn’t fazed
by the fact that he can’t “kill Hitler,” because he decides to use the power to
find a girlfriend. Though this is depicted as being difficult, Tim, as played
by Domnhall Gleeson, is a gangly but handsome fellow with charm and an acute
sense of humor. Curtis’ handling of this character feels a lot like what your
mother used to tell you: slouching and mumbling is unattractive, dear.

Tim tests his powers during a summer getaway with family, attempting to woo
a dreamgirl that might as well have the words “female Baxter” tattooed on her
chest – not that Tim will reject her, but that it’s easy to see him with
someone a bit more relatable and full of personality. His time travel teaches
him that she is fickle enough to reject his advances with a caveat on the last
day of summer, then rebuff his advances again at the beginning of the season
for entirely different reasons. This power doesn’t make women any less of a
riddle to Tim, who apparently only uses his abilities to get laid, though no character
ever seems to have a problem with money over the film’s runtime.

Tim’s real adventure away from home begins when he shares a loft with
cartoonish playwright Harry (Tom Hollander). By day he’s arguing legal briefs
through strenuous post-graduate studies, and by night he’s suffering through
Harry’s constant, borderline suicidal temper tantrums; Hollander, a gifted
comedic actor, is stuck playing this character as a skimpy comic strip,
bemoaning any and all indignities with a slump of his bathrobe-clad shoulders.
Tim’s quiet misery is upended with a blind date, where he develops chemistry
with a chatty young lady in a restaurant where the customers see no light. It’s
the absolute last place a man would find someone like the radiant Ms.
McAdams, but this is a movie about time travel, so you have to let that one

A time-travel favor for Harry is one of Tim’s only altruistic acts, though
it results in erasing his date with McAdams’ Mary from existence. This doesn’t
stop him from pursuing her once again using all the knowledge gained from that
date, even if Mary now does not recognize this stranger. McAdams, it doesn’t
need to be said, is vibrant: she plays Mary as a girl who honestly has no idea
how beautiful she is, one who seems surprised that any man would approach her
despite her obvious luminescence. Mary isn’t seduced by Tim’s charm or looks as
much as by his persistence: little does she know that he’s actively violating
her in order to win her trust.

The movie presents it as an afterthought that Tim never tells anyone, not
even Mary, about his unique skill. Instead, he constructs a relationship with her
built on one central lie that keeps him from ever making a mistake, from ever
placing her in a negative situation, turning her into an object waiting to be
pleased. When Tim takes Mary to bed, there’s a vague disappointment at the end
of their lovemaking, so Tim excuses himself to travel back in time and try it
again. At the end of the night, the space-time physics aren’t enough to
distract you from the question of whether Mary has given her consent to sex
three times over the course of one night in three separate timelines.

The morality of what Tim is doing is never broached by the subject matter,
which is content to set up mild comedic obstacles that can be hurdled with
great ease. Tim and Mary hook up in the film’s first forty minutes (movie over,
said some of the smarter cookies in the NYFF screening who quickly departed),
and Tim has no more dragons to slay until years later when he realizes maybe he
should share this power to make another’s life better. You wonder if this ever occurred
to his father, who claims he spent all the added time reading books. Nighy’s
performance, as the world’s most carefree dad, mostly involves him pacing
around the room, as if primed for a jazz triangle rehearsal. There’s never once
the idea that, within the deep love between Tim and his father, they’ve
disagreed about anything. Even when he brings Tim distressing third act news
about their power that probably should have been shared earlier, Tim doesn’t respond
with anger.

And why would he? He’s attached to the hip to the queen of romantic
comedies. McAdams eventually plays a secondary role as the focus tightens on
Tim and his pop, and the fantasy of a romantic relationship shifts into the practicality
of domestic life. It feels like a marginalization of McAdams skill and presence
as much as an example of the film’s implicit notion that all women are meant to
be kept in the dark or protected and saved, like Tim’s effervescent younger
sister in an otherwise charming performance by Lydia Wilson. “About Time,” inadvertently,
reveals itself to be About Men, and how they devise lies in order to create the
illusion that all women supposedly want to see. Neil LaBute would have a field
day with this material, but he also wouldn’t have had the innate cruelty to
cast someone as divine as Ms. McAdams to play such a fool. [D]

Browse through all our coverage of the 2013 New York Film Festival by clicking here.

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This review is so off base that it makes me question if the reviewer actually watched the movie or failed to and quickly made a crap review.
How about reviewing a movie for what it is and not trying to find shit in everything. Cheers

my name

The author of this article is just lacking sex, that is the reason for all this hate. You need more dick honey, that will put a smile on your spaghetti face. Tada!


Totally agree with you Sophie, this movie touched me and I don’t see any anti-feminism here, just a good way to tell that you should enjoy all your moment with your family and enjoy life while you can. The story with his father is reaching me a lot too, that’s maybe why I loved this movie.

Laszlo Toth, Jr.

"…who apparently only uses his abilities to get laid."

Kinda like soldiers. Or football players. Or musicians. Or scientists. Or artists. Or writers. Or even… {gulp} film critics.

"Hollander, a gifted comedic actor, is stuck playing this character as a skimpy comic strip, bemoaning any and all indignities with a slump of his bathrobe-clad shoulders."

You’re right. That doesn’t sound like a playwright at all. Sounds more like a film critic. Unless… It sounds like a film critic who’s a frustrated playwright?


The author of this review deconstructs the movie into pieces that on their own may seem
unethical like Tim going back in time two times to redo their first moment of making love. But
this comedy is about examining real life moments and finding out what a real red blooded male would likely do. Remember he is going back in time to make consenting love to her, where she made the first move, by the way. Thus I do not see him violating her at all. It is obvious the author Gabe is not interested in how life even among good people has minor nuances that can
only be made wrong by examining every second with a microscope. I hope Gabe lives up to what he expects in others. My guess his perspective on the world is off. Or he wears rose colored glasses. This movie had many special moments. I was reluctant to see this as Rachel McAdams has been a bit typecast as the romantic folly in way too many movies. But the story was touching, and the relationship between father and son was beautiful. Imagine being able to go back in time and relive just a few hours with your father when you were a young kid and he
was at the height of his health. I am so tired of time travel movies that are about saving the world. This seems very unrealistic, and overdone. Plus this movie puts a brake on this idea since you were not able for some reason to change world events. Thus we could get on with just a story about a boy, and a girl.


That is not at all what this movie is about and if you honestly think that it's that dull on message, then you're kidding yourself as a critic. Poor show, Gabe. I feel extremely sorry for you that you can't see the sheet excellence in this film. This is a great movie and nothing at all like Gabe has so mistakenly described. This is a must see!


I feel sorry for Gabe Toro that he can't see the good in this movie. Tim would go back in time to make things better for Mary, not because he viewed her as an object but because he deeply cared for her and loved her. Somehow Gabe is trying to turn this into a sexist thing which never crossed my mind once before reading this review. If you can tell me for a fact you've never wanted to rewind 10 mins to erase something stupid you did or said, then I'd say you're lying. Just because this character has this ability and uses it doesn't make him sexist. Nor is he trying to build a relationship based on lies. If you've ever told your girlfriend "her butt didn't look big in those jeans", then you are just as much a liar.


Haven't yet seen the movie BUT I love what you write about it and will look forward to seeing it nonetheless. I too find Rachel McAdams to be radiant and the movie preview DO seem to suggest that the movie supports deceptive relationships and men doing and saying absolutely ANYTHING to get into a woman's pants. The fact that he repeatedly goes back in time to learn how to modify his behavior is definitely lying to her by omission. BUT still I'm looking forward to seeing it. THANKS for a great review!


Gabe Toro: If I had the ability to clench my fists in a dark room in order to travel back in time, I would travel back 10 minutes so I wouldn't have to read this awful review.


This review is probably one of the dumbest I've seen so far. While the film concentrates on the love romance between Domnhall gleeson and McAdams and things like enjoying everyday and every moment, the critic here focuses so much on woman's "vulnerability". You're harping on the wrong topic all together. Bad review.

Carl von Maltitz

Thanks for this review – watching the film I had only a very blurry notion of why it made me feel slightly sick, even though it had its funny and touching moments. Now I know better.

Santiago Draco

Wow, there's so much hate in the world. A good movie comes along that is, ultimately, about love and caring for one another, and the haters, like Mr. Jonathan there, have to spread their hate like a thick sheen of slime on an otherwise caring piece of work. Let's not mention the equally clueless Mr. Toro.

Jonathan L

I agree, this film did not have the best view on women. Just a few examples; They called Mary's friend a prostitute, just for being more open with her sexual desire. The character Harry said that Tim could f*ck his daughter because she's already f*cking everyone else, so it doesn't matter (She's practically a prostitute already). Charlotte wasn't meant to be a good character either, and her proposal to f*ck Tim was viewed as slutty.

They are sort of saying, maybe not literary, that the only way to be a good women is to commit to one man. Madonna-wh*re complex all over. I'm not saying this was intentional, but can someone really say that it's totally untrue?


    “They are sort of saying, maybe not literary, that the only way to be a good women is to commit to one man. Madonna-wh*re complex all over. I’m not saying this was intentional, but can someone really say that it’s totally untrue?”
    That’s absolutely untrue. Your interpretation of these female characters says more about you than about the movie really. Charlotte’s proposing Tim is slutty? How is the movie making that statement?


Worst review ever, movie is great and yes, everybody thinks so… but you.


"At the end of the night, the space-time physics aren’t enough to distract you from the question of whether Mary has given her consent to sex three times over the course of one night in three separate timelines."

Are you serious? Me and my fiance watched this movie, and not a single time was this ever a thought. I found this website through Metacritic, won't be coming back.


The movie… it started off okay, but then it got too cute for its own good. Also, McAdams… WTF. She's 35 and she's playing opposite someone who looks 23. Horrible miscasting. They could have had any number of proper-age female actresses like Shailene Woodley or Brie Larson. Had to stop watching this movie in the middle because: preposterous. 1.5/5 in my book.

Norwegian Blue

I wonder, do critics ever consider that some film makers make movies for viewers, and not for critics? This movie is the best of the year, period. I'm genuinely sorry for Mr. Toro that he wasn't equipped to enjoy it. (Oh, and as for his specific criticisms, he clearly misunderstood so many aspects of the movie, it would be easy, but pointless, to address them ad seriatim.)

Dizl McAdams

What a sad life you lead!


I thought this article was intelligent until it starting banging on about how the film is supposedly misogynistic. Why the hell does everything have to be about the representation of women? Just because Rachel McAdams wasn't the protagonist in this instance does not make the film anti-feminist. In fact, Tim TRIES to save his sister but doesn't in the end, so what does that say? That men are impotent and unsuccessful in what they try to achieve? No. "How they devise lies in order to create the illusion that all women" ALL women? Sorry, this is just one woman here. Generalisation flaw. Also, it's funny that you insult the men's performances even though they were extraordinary and compliment the women's? And why is McAdam's character a "fool"? Because she gets married, has children and does not prioritise her career above her family? I'm a feminist, but I don't get stupidly carried away. Don't read into it too much, just enjoy the film for what it is.

Alan B

F*ck, my dick is so sore again. I'm gonna go eat nachos.

Alan B

This ROMANTIC COMEDY is terrible because it isn't a Neil LaBute film and it wastes McAdams' "skill"? Terrific criticism, as always …


I don't see what people find to R. McAdams. She's cute with a great smile. But as an actress she's really boring.


This review is the kind that gives conservatives the license to dismiss actual feminist arguments as “political correctness”. You accuse the movie of reducing female characters to “objects waiting to be pleased” but you strip them off any power of decision over their own lives. Mary is “violated”? She leads them to her flat. Are you so threatened by female sexuality that you can’t fathom that a woman could make the first move? In three different timelines yes (he only goes back to the moment when her consent is not only obvious to everyone but she initiated the sex.
And later you berate the movie for misusing McAdams skills but you reduce her to “the queen of romcom”.
The movie may be about men but your review is the male idea of feminism: one that feels women are to be protected and carefully handled.

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