Saturday, 14 September 2013

About Time (12A)

Word was, from various media rumours, that early screenings for the latest Richard Curtis film had not gone well. Don't know if anything was changed between then and now, but if the rumours were true then the early audiences were wrong.

Before we get into About Time, however, a quick word about the adverts. They don't change much, and so when you get to see a lot of films - as what we do - then you see the same ones a lot. And that Diet Coke advert is really ticking me off.

You'll have seen it - a gaggle of girlies are on a grassy bank in a park when Mr Hunk ambles in with his lawn mower (bugger knows which council he's working for...). The lead girlie then rolls her famous silver can down the slope, it comes to rest by the mower, and Mr Hunk opens it - spraying himself in the process.

Aghast at the bare chest that results in this, lead girlie then opens her can of Diet Coke to quench her desires. THE SAME CAN SHE'S ALREADY ROLLED DOWN THE BLOODY HILL. Sort out your continuity Coke, it's irksome.

Anyhoo, enough of that, what's Mr Curtis up to?

Well, on the face of it, pretty much the same as always - loving families, bumbling Brits, cool and lovely Americans... Only now, with added time travel. That's pretty much it. It could easily be Four Weddings And A Tardis.

But that's not a criticism. Far from it.

You see, the one thing Curtis has perfected over the years is creating characters you love, scenes you can relate to, capturing emotion and distilling it onto the screen. None of which is as easy as he makes it look.

And while the time travel element is new, it's actually not what the film's about (despite early reports). The film is about seizing the moment, not changing things when you screw up - funny as that may be.

And it's not entirely about fathers and sons, as big an element at this is here. It's about love. And life. And how you treat those two tricky buggers.

At the centre of About Time is Domhnall Gleeson, whose blustering and bumbling Tim is told by his dad (the sublime Bill Nighy) that  the men in his family have the ability to pop back in time. Not all the way back to Helen Of Troy, but just to relive days they've already had.

Being a normal, hormone-fuelled lad, Tim does what any boy would do and uses this gift to land the woman of his dreams. When that fails, he tries again. This time netting the beautiful Mary (Rachel McAdams again showing her wonderful gift for comedy).

Of course, as any Dr Who fan will tell you, popping back to last Tuesday comes with a risk or two, and sure enough Tim learns the hard way that there are things you can't change without knackering the present.

But, as I've said, that's really not the point of About Time.

In showing us what can be done, Curtis then shows us why it shouldn't. That every day IS precious, and should be treasured. If that sounds a bit saccharine, then yes, it kind of is - but when it's handled this well, who cares?

I'm sure others will have their own views and interpretations of About Time, and I've heard grown men talk of a need to phone their sons after watching this, but that's not what pulled at my heart strings. If nothing else, I don't have children, so that would be tricky. And Richard Parker doesn't tend to answer the phone.

No, what got me was the tale of a search for Miss Right. Tim's ever desperate attempts to track down the woman he met quite by chance but then lost. You root for him. You rail against him when he screws up, you understand what he goes through and why.

The reason for this is two-fold (three if you're me). Gleeson's acting and Curtis' writing comes together perfectly. Yes, you can see Hugh Grant's previous characters all over this, but Gleeson brings something new and different to the party. There's a calm confidence underpinning the nervous front.

Then there's the proposal scene (this is hardly a plot spoiler, it's a Richard Curtis film). Now, I doubt there will be many who watch this bit and totally relate to what unfolds, but speaking as a man who proposed at pretty much the same point in his intended's day (she was also asleep), and got pretty much the same initial response, I was grinning like an idiot throughout this section of the film.

And that grin did not go away.

(If Mrs Popcorn should see About Time, by the way, can I just point out that the events leading up to Tim's proposal were in no way mirrored in my life. I have to say that, because she will ask.)

There are perhaps fewer laughs here than in Curtis' previous works, but that matters not a jot. The heavier, darker moments are necessary to both highlight the laughter but to also make the point that life, sadly, isn't all cupcakes and tea.

The fact Curtis balances both ends of the spectrum so well is again testament to his gift for capturing human nature so expertly.

Curtis said in a recent interview that he writes what he knows - and he clearly knows people. Yes the same types of characters crop up across all his films (the character of Rory is not a million miles away from Four Weddings' Tom), but that's because they are real people. And that reality is what makes this film work so well.

I laughed, I almost cried, I did think about calling the Old Man (but then changed my mind as he's probably still drunk in Berlin right now), I wallowed in the company of people you feel are friends (another advantage to Curtis sticking to what he knows, you feel like you already know these people) and I at no point wanted it to end.

There's precious little baggage here. The characters are perfectly drawn (Tom Hollander is simply brilliant as bitter playwright Harry), and no scene seems to be overplayed (again, quite a feat when you consider the repetitious nature of the premise).

If I had one quibble, it's with the hand-held camera approach, which comes close to distracting the focus in some of the more emotional moments, but that really is the only negative here.

No, it's not high art. No, the sci-fi element doesn't obey the rules, but so what?

Throughout this screening there were a group of rude, chatty, self-centred youngsters who seemed oblivious to everyone else and happily wittered and rustled with not a thought for the rest of us. And do you know what? It didn't bother me once.

That's how good About Time is.

Maybe it's my age, maybe it was the gag about people who don't like children (if we ever meet, it'll come up...), maybe it was the lack of sleep, maybe it was the fact my wife has gone away for a week and I'm genuinely afraid that I might starve to death - the reason doesn't matter. I simply fell in love with this film.

Just wish I could go back in time and watch it again.

Oh, and to complete the experience, drive home from the cinema listening to Metallica's cover of Bob Seger's Turn The Page - it really rounds things off nicely...

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