Friday, November 1, 2013

Film Review: About Time

I came here to post my review of the upcoming film "About Time" and realized it's been almost a year since I posted here last.  I'm riddled with A.D.D. and usually when I find something interesting, I just share on Facebook and I don't usually take the time to actually blog.

Well, it's ABOUT TIME I change that.  Let's start anew.

The movie “About Time” is a difficult movie to discuss without revealing major spoilers, and I do not envy the marketing team at Universal. The movie is being portrayed as a story about a young man that has the ability to travel back to any point in his life, and relive anything he doesn’t like and make it better. The trailer suggests that he spends the majority of the movie primarily to change the way he romances Rachael McAdam’s character Mary. While that is certainly an aspect of the film, it is but the very tip of a much deeper story.

Romantic comedies are like cotton candy. They are light, colorful, sweet, and since they aren’t filling, they are quickly forgotten about. “About Time” has romance, misunderstandings, love, and marriage, but these things are the appetizer course for a much longer and delicious full course meal. It’s about the journey of life and how hard it is to find the right perspective on it when we focus on the individual moments of our day to day lives.

Early on in the film, Tim’s father explains that all of the men in their family have always had the same secret ability to travel backwards in time. They can’t travel back to a time that they haven’t already lived though, so no going back to kill Hitler or sleep with Helen of Troy. Of course, Tim doesn’t believe it, especially when time travel doesn’t involve a series of chanted words, or a fancy scientific machine. Instead, you climb into a wardrobe, or enter an empty room where no one else can see you, clench your fists, imagine the time in your life you want to go to, and when you open your eyes, you will be there.

Tim’s father tells him that it is up to him to find out what he wants to use this power for, and suggests that you only use it for the things that will create an extraordinary life. There is no one single answer, as each life is unique, and Tim, being a sweet young man who is clumsy around women, thinks that this a good way to get a girlfriend.

The first sign that this movie is smarter than the usual rom-com, is when Tim does indeed meet the love of his life, but it is not through his time traveling ability. It’s when he meets Mary, a quiet American who is a reader for a publishing company in England, at a “dine in the dark” restaurant where you eat in complete darkness. By the time the dinner is over, Tim and Mary have had hours of conversation, laughs, and a spark has ignited before either of them actually sees the other. As Tim dates Mary, he begins to use his time travel ability to try and help those that he loves, but quickly realizes that while he can remake his past and make different decisions, he can’t control how those changes will inevitably make ripples in his timeline and change his future. The longer he lives, he learns that he has to pick and choose what moments to rewind and redo, because he may not like the new outcome he has created.

 Time travel movies often deal with regret, or fixing a past that has gone terribly wrong. Back to the Future, the upcoming X-Men film, etc. “About Time” explores the idea that we rarely “fix” our lives by changing one single item we don’t like. Our lives are not based on one single moment of time where our path changed on a hinge. Life is a series of small moments that build atop of one another like coral in a living sea.

 The one thing that the trailers don’t really suggest, is how this film is as much about the relationship between a man and his father, as much as it is about a man and his wife. So often in film, the father is seen to be evil, or absent, or domineering and the son becomes resentful, or must right his father’s wrongs. In this film, Tim and his father are not two men fighting about replacing a tarnished legacy, or one trying to usurp the other’s power. Instead, these are two men who love each other wholly, and who share genuine bonds of love and respect. Each is trying to help the other achieve greater things, and share time in a beautiful and profound way.

 The other relationship explored in this film, is with Tim’s free-spirited sister named Kat. Through their story, the film reminds us that ultimately, we have an inability to save other people from themselves. An individual will not change unless they decide to make that choice. We can tell them that they are on a bad path, that they are in danger, that they are making mistakes, but ultimately it isn’t our life, or our ability to change them, regardless of how strong our compulsion to try anyway. As humans, we want to believe that we are strong by ourselves, that at the end of the day, we can make it on our own. And while it is possible to live alone, that isn’t really living. Family allows us to thrive, as long as we have the strength of our loved ones to draw upon. That thought alone could be an entire film, but here, it is but one thread of a larger tapestry.

By extending the story beyond Tim’s relationship with Mary, the film examines themes of family and mortality and the way we use time and how we prioritize the people and the events in our lives. How do we spend our time? Why do we think of time as a currency to be spent? What do we want to leave behind when we are gone? What legacy are we creating? How many lives have we touched? How does memory plays a part in who we are?

This film’s overriding theme is love, but it’s not the simple Hallmark greeting card version. It’s about how love can change us, but sometimes not enough. How does the love of other people connect us? How do we become our best selves through the love of another?

I won’t lie….I cried in this movie. By the time the third act was unspooling, I was a wreck and as the story is reaching its peak, it’s powerful, and wonderful, and devastating stuff. Even with his powers, Tim realizes that time passes and nothing is permanent. Life is a limited time offer, and the clock is ticking and it will not stop, no matter how much we wish it would.

See this film with someone you love. Cherish the time you have with them. Reflect on what life you want to live, and then go and make that life a reality. I saw this film in an advanced screening more than a month ago, and I am still thinking about it. It moved me, it engaged me, it challenged me, and it sits among my favorite films I have ever seen.

 Live the life you want to live. Make it extraordinary. Share it with others that love you.

That’s what “About Time” is really all about.

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