Movie Review - 'About Time' - About Time, written and directed by Richard Curtis (Love Actually), follows a young man looking for love — with a little help from time-travel. NPR's Bob Mondello says that in this instance, time travel and romantic comedy don't necessarily blend well together.


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There's a phrase in French: l'esprit de l'escalier - meaning staircase wit, for that moment when you've lost an argument and are walking away and way too late, you think of the perfect comeback. If you could just rewind your life a few minutes, you'd win that argument. Film critic Bob Mondello says that's pretty much the setup for the new British comedy "About Time."

BOB MONDELLO, BYLINE: We meet shy, young Tim as he's making a total mess of an opportunity to kiss a girl.


UNIDENTIFIED ACTORS: (As characters) Happy New Year!

DOMHNALL GLEESON: (As Tim) Happy New Year.

MONDELLO: Then the next day, his father tells him a family secret.


BILL NIGHY: (As Tim's father) The men in the family can travel in time - more accurately, travel back in time. We can't travel into the future.

GLEESON: (As Tim) If it's true - which it isn't...

NIGHY: (As Tim's father) Although it is.

GLEESON: (As Tim) Although it isn't, obviously. But if it was, which it's not...

NIGHY: (As Tim's father ) Which it is.

GLEESON: (As Tim) Which it isn't. But if it was, how would I actually...

NIGHY: (As Tim's father) Well, how is the easy bit, in fact. You go into a dark place - big cupboards are very useful, generally; toilets, in a pinch - then you clinch your fists, like this. Think of the moment you're going to, and you'll find yourself there - after a bit of a stumble and a rumble, and a tumble.

MONDELLO: So he tries it, and things go better.


UNIDENTIFIED ACTORS: (As characters) Happy New Year!

GLEESON: (As Tim) It's going to be a complicated year.

NIGHY: (As Tim's father) It's going to be a complicated life.

MONDELLO: True enough. Richard Curtis, the guy who wrote "Love Actually," "Four Weddings and a Funeral," "Bridget Jones's Diary" and "Notting Hill," does complicated pretty well at this point. Tim will soon meet the girl of his dreams, and blow the encounter completely.


GLEESON: (As Tim) I'm Tim.

RACHEL MCADAMS: (As Mary) I'm Mary.

GLEESON: (As Tim) That's my mother's name.

MCADAMS: (As Mary) I remind you of your mother?

GLEESON: (As Tim) Obviously, I should have thought this through more. Could you give me one second?

MONDELLO: But he's a quick study. The redo is bound to go better.


GLEESON: (As Tim) I'm Tim.

MCADAMS: (As Mary) I'm Mary.

GLEESON: (As Tim) I love your eyes.

MCADAMS: (As Mary) Do you?

GLEESON: (As Tim) I love the rest of your face, too. Haven't even looked further down. I'm sure it's all fantastic.

MONDELLO: So OK, this is going to take some work. But when they're parting, he manages to pull himself together.


GLEESON: (As Tim) Would it be very wrong if I asked you for your number?

MCADAMS: (As Mary) No.

GLEESON: (As Tim) Just in case I ever, you know, had to call you about...

MCADAMS: (As Mary) Stuff.

GLEESON: (As Tim) Mm.

MONDELLO: All those Richard Curtis films I mentioned a moment ago featured Hugh Grant. And while this one doesn't, you can hear that Domhnall Gleeson is a decent stand-in. His one, true love is played by Rachel McAdams, who must be getting tired of smiling sweetly as all her leading men keep getting do-overs - four years ago, in "The Time Traveler's Wife"; two years ago, in Woody Allen's decade-warping "Midnight in Paris"; and now, here. She, meanwhile, has to cope with real life.


MCADAMS: (As Mary) I have some bad news.

GLEESON: (As Tim) You're dying.

MCADAMS: (a Mary) No, not that bad.

GLEESON: (As Tim) I'm dying?

MCADAMS: (As Mary) No. My parents are in town. They're visiting, and they're coming around.

GLEESON: (As Tim) Oh, God. Parents. American parents.

MCADAMS: (As Mary) Mm-hmm.

GLEESON: (As Tim) When?

MCADAMS: (As Mary) Now. They told me, and I didn't tell you. And I thought they'd cancel because they normally do, and they didn't.

GLEESON: (As Tim) Now-now.

MCADAMS: (As Mary) Now, now, now. So you should probably put on some pants.

MONDELLO: One thing you realize, as the film goes on, is that time travel isn't terribly useful for the romantic bits. Romantic comedy is all about awkwardness and bad timing. And if you can basically eliminate those by popping into a closet, there's no tension after a while. So the story gets bland. And with Richard Curtis being a competent but not an especially exciting director, "About Time" becomes a case of the bland leading the bland. If only he could go back and try again.

I'm Bob Mondello.

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