Film Review: About Time
Jonathan Vaughan-Davies reflects on the latest British rom-com with a twist...
My wife (Aimee) and I actually managed the impossible last weekend – wait for it... you won’t believe it – we actually managed to arrange to go out... on a date... together... without the kids. Incredible, I know!
The long-awaited night out resulted in us catching Richard Curtis’ latest (and possibly last) film called: About Time
. It’s a classic British romantic comedy from the guy who brought us Four Weddings and a Funeral, Notting Hill
and Love Actually.
Everything you’d expect is there: a bumbling-yet-strangely-charming British man, with an eccentric-yet-strangely-lovable family, who falls for pretty-yet-strangely-modest America girl, and a humorous-yet-strangely-life-affirming message.
This time however, there is a twist on the classic: the aforementioned bumbling-yet- strangely-charming British man (an everyday guy called Tim, played by Domhnall Gleeson) discovers on his 21st birthday that he, and all the other men in his family, can actually travel through time. They have an inherited ability to choose to revisit any point in their lifetime, relive the experience and even change how they react and respond to it.
As his dad (a pitch perfect performance from Bill Nighy) explains this to Tim, we see the range of emotions of his face; from disbelief to confusion to wonder to hope to incredulity. But when he inevitably goes and tries it, he does find himself back at a point of previous regret (a missed New Year’s Eve party opportunity) where he is able to act rather differently this time around.
As well as all the usual British romantic comedy beats, by warned – you can expect a delirious amount of swearing, sexual jokes and sex scenes; no more or less than Curtis’ previous films, but just felt the need to gently warn you that as romantic About Time
is, it’s no Jane Austin.
Running right through the choices that drive this story forward there is an underlying question that gives this film a different flavour to all that goes before it in the Curtis catalogue...
If I could go back and do things differently, what would I want to change?
About Time for a Second Chance?
Time travellers in films are nothing new – even romantic ones – and the enduring legacy of this dream of being able to replay and replot our lives is obvious: there are very few people who wouldn’t want to change something in their lives. A regret, a poor response, a moment of indecision, words said in anger, things left undone.
And if the question were broadened out further than our personal lives, surely we dream that we may have been able to do more about certain situations had we known at the time some of the consequences that were to later unfold.
Curtis is not afraid to allow the film to explore some of these deeper questions of how we use or waste our time. In the film, Tim is not totally selfish, with his new found ability to navigate through the spaghetti junction of relationships in his lifetime. But he finds that, although he is able to make changes to his own behaviour, he cannot make choices for anyone else’s.
This connects so deeply because we all spend time replaying scenarios, rehearsing old conversations, reviewing old decisions and longing for second chance.
About Time for Healing?
One night the house where Jesus was staying is disturbed by a knock on the door - it’s a Teacher of the Law, a man called Nicodemus. He’s come under the covers of darkness for a private conversation with the new Rabbi in town who he has heard so much about.
Jesus jumps right to the heart of the matter - “I tell you the truth,” He says, interrupting the teacher’s rather flattering introduction: “unless you are born again you cannot see the Kingdom of God!”
I wonder if Nicodemus' face didn’t race through the whole circuit of emotions that Tim’s does in the film: disbelief, confusion, wonder, hope, incredulity. I’m not really sure if the next words out of his mouth are a statement or a question; but either way they sum up the longing of anyone who has ever dreamt of starting again: “How can someone be born when they are old?!”
The irony of the moment is that stood in front of him in the dark of the night, is the One born into our history to be this world’s second chance - born from above, that a humanity broken by shame and regret might find complete forgiveness and the hope of starting all over again with the Creator of time, Lord of History and King of Eternity!
In my spoken word piece: “The Speed of Grace”
I describe Jesus this way:
“A Trespasser in His own lifetime
A Tourist in our timeline
History itself gets redefined
Forever divided into two
Foreign to our urgency and stress
Alien to our hunger for success
He made time for the lost and purposeless
Freeing them up from the past
Breaking into the cycle of inevitability,
Changing the laws of probability,
Dethroning the rule of irreversibility;
Limited at long last”
About Time to Engage?
Films are a powerful way of losing ourselves in a dream long enough to actually view ourselves differently, and can almost serve as modern day parables - opportunities to reflect on who we are and why we do what we do. Stories like About Time
can move us powerfully because they tap into the universal questions of life, death, regrets, hopes, and the search for true love.
If you're interested in exploring how you could harness the power of this media then Damaris is a Christian education charity that exists to provide insight and resources for churches wanting to engage meaningfully with the themes that Hollywood often highlight. It has created specific resources for About Time
How might you, as a Church, begin to respond to the big questions that movies often ask and often leave their huge audiences with?
The Revd Jonathan Vaughan-Davies is the Minister at Bethel Baptist Church in Whitchurch Cardiff. He is the writer and presenter of the Question course, which aims to help make sense of what God is doing in the lives of people who are not yet Christian and explore questions about God which can arise early on in the journey of faith.