Tim Lake (Domhnall Gleeson) is a social incompetent who can’t get a girlfriend because he’s always saying or doing something wrong or clumsy. Then on his 21st birthday, his father (Bill Nighy), reveals a family secret. The men of the clan have the ability to travel back in time. But only within the time the individual has lived. Tim, scoffing, tries out the travel directions and discovers it’s true, Stunned, he tells his father, “It’s going to be a complicated year,” to which his father replies, “It’s going to be a complicated life.”
And that’s the thesis statement for the entire film. Forget the time travel gimmick scorned by critics and whether there are holes in the so-called science of time travel plot. Forget their comparisons to Ground Hog Day and other films with a time element. Ground Hog Day is one of my favorite movies and the similarities did not encroach on, or detract in any way from, my enjoyment of either as a film in its own right. They both had things to say about life, about its muddled, twisted complications, about growth as an individual, and about relationships with family and friends. I enjoyed each one for its own sake.
Though “About Time” begins with the somewhat shallow, young man’s immediate goals for personal gratification, it develops from there on the foundation of an eccentric, but loving family, especially the father. The elder Mr. Lake’s objective in life is to be there for those he loves, to give them the best life he can, and to show his love in word and action. Bill Nighy melted my heart. It wasn’t the big things in life he shared as a father, as a husband, as a brother. It was a walk on the beach, a heated game of ping-pong, good conversation, sharing a passage from Dickens. Mike and I do that. We’ll be reading and want to share an especially evocative sentence or paragraph, or even a whole page. Then we talk about the poetic prose or the idea or the feeling of it. It’s a beautiful time for us, and as the father in the film read from his book, we looked at each other and smiled.
The big moments in life come along for Tim — the happy, the sad, the funny. Tim’s stock answer to complications is, “Could you give me a second?” Then dashes off to relive the moment or incident more to his satisfaction. But as very big complications arise, Tim finds he can’t “fix” a life gone off track, like his sister Kit-Kat (Lydia Wilson). He can’t stop a tragedy without causing a ripple that changes the future. So he talks to his father. “I never said you could fix everything. Not without consequences,” Lake/Nighy tells his son.
But one especially good piece of advice his father gives is to use his gift to relive a bad day, and on the second time around, notice the little things. After a while, Tim begins to notice the little things even without reliving the day. And I think that was his father’s goal all along.
But there are also days, Tim says, that you only want to live once. And only then because you have to. As his father says, “Time catches up to all of us, my son.”
I loved the movie. It’s rated R because of brief nudity, and some “adult language”. But in spite of those drawbacks, it’s a heart-warming, watchable film that I will watch again.