Film Review: About Time

A new twist on the rom-com involves time travel to clean up past mistakes.

About Time | B-

What ostensibly amounts to a video montage of twinkling night skies, lazy days at the beach, rain-soaked weddings and cute meet-up scenarios set to pop music, About Time is a breezy but undisciplined paean to living in the moment — one that ironically has a hard time maintaining focus.

Lanky, ginger-topped Irishman Domhnall Gleeson is tasked with playing gawky, upper-crust British twit Tim Lake, and a rather meek chap who also happens to be a time traveler.

It seems all the Lake men have this gift, a birthright explained to Tim by his father (Bill Nighy) on his 21st birthday, and an amazing feat that requires only a quiet spot and a moment’s concentration to achieve. There are rules: You can only travel to points within your own lifespan; you can’t alter major world events; you can’t go forward; and there are certain things that can’t be undone after a certain point.

Really, this is the power of second chances, the chance to relive cherished moments or to correct mistakes. The first thing the timid Tim does with it is go back to a New Year’s party and kiss the nice girl he brushed off before; not exactly Earth-shattering stuff. The consequences do become greater once the shy Tim meets his scholarly dream girl, Mary (Rachel McAdams), and most of his backtracking is in an effort to keep her happy and safe.

Director Richard Curtis is a craftsman, capable of producing the guiltiest of pleasures, and his cozy romantic baubles, like Love Actually and Notting Hill, make for compulsive viewing despite their ubiquity on cable.

Curtis specializes in cinematic comfort food: warmed-up confections in which lonely or frustrated people find hope in each other despite their near-crippling social anxieties, or challenging personal circumstances.

Of course, this description applies to just about any rom-com, but the Curtis touch is usually just effervescent enough to help float over the sticky traps that other similar films often get bogged down in.

This charming but uneven effort finds Curtis edging just a bit outside his comfort zone, dipping a toe into outright fantasy, and working without his safety blanket — Hugh Grant — who has anchored most of his big hits. Gleeson tries, but he’s an inferior substitute.

Curtis regular Bill Nighy is, thankfully, on hand, and he’s so utterly delightful and effortlessly charming that you’ll likely forgive him anything, including the occasional syrupy dialogue he’s asked to spew.

Rachel McAdams is as close to bottled sunshine as any actress ever has been. She’s so irresistible, in fact, that her initial supposed undateable, bookish timidity is about as believable as Clark Kent fooling his closest friends with glasses and a dab of hair gel.

There is an undeniable mawkishness to About Time and too many dangling subplots, but the essential message of tuning in and loving your life, mistakes, drudgery and all, is sound as a pound.

About Time is in theaters now and is rated R with a running time of 123 minutes.