Well, I enjoyed About Time—and when I said something to that effect on Twitter after the screening this week, a bunch of people responded in disbelief. "The trailer was so awful!" they said. (Tweeted.)
Having now watched the trailer, I agree: the film that trailer is advertising looks derivative and dull, a disappointment for writer/director Richard Curtis. This is the man who wrote Notting Hill, Bridget Jones's Diary, and Love Actually (which he directed, too), plus a bunch of episodes of Black Adder and Mr. Bean and even the screenplay for the much-celebrated War Horse. So why, you might be justified in asking, would he be making something that looks to be some kind of cross between The Notebook and a more maudlin About a Boy?
Thankfully, About Time is only loosely based on its trailer. In fact, it's not a romantic comedy at all. There is romance and comedy, to be sure, plenty of both. But it's got a bit more substance at its core, and is just good-hearted enough to sidestep tired rom-com (and time-travel) tropes.
We meet our hero, Tim Lake (Domnhall Gleeson, who played Bill Weasley in the final Harry Potter installments), not long after his twenty-first birthday. Tim leads a happy life. His father (the magnificent Bill Nighy) retired early from his teaching job to spend more time with Tim and his free-spirited little sister they call Kit Kat. Along with Tim's mother and uncle, the family takes tea on the beach every day, watches movies together on Friday nights in the garden, and seems to genuinely love being together.
Tim, like many a lanky 21-year-old, is still awkward around girls, and the morning after one particularly cringe-y New Year's Eve party (at which Tim chummily shook the hand of the girl next to him while everyone else kissed at the stroke of midnight), Tim's father calls him into his study and sits him down. He's got an announcement. "Ready for spooky time?" he asks.
Turns out that the men in the Lake family have always been able to travel back in time by climbing into closets, thinking back to a moment in their lives, and then clenching their fists. Instantly they're back. They can travel back as often as they want and then return to the present day (though, as Tim's father says, they can only travel back to points in their own lifetimes, which negates certain possibilities with, say, Hitler or Helen of Troy).
Tim's father's counsel, based on the mistakes of their male ancestors, is to take this seriously and think about what he really wants from life. Tim, being twenty-one, really just wants a girlfriend. But he's mature enough to know that for him, "it was always going to be about love."
Soon, after having his heart broken and discovering that all the traveling back in the world won't make someone love you, he moves to London to pursue a career in law. And then one night, he meets Mary (Rachel McAdams), a bookish, sweet, and witty American girl who, after a little time-related finagling, falls in love with Tim. And that's just the beginning.