Since I got married a few years ago, I rarely watch new releases of contemporary romantic Hollywood movies and a screenwriting book I read recently says that Hollywood rarely buys romantic comedies of the Nora Ephron variety currently, even though those are some of the most enjoyable of the genre. However, I am a sucker for time travel and romance, even braving the terrible adaptation of "The Time Traveller's Wife" a few years ago, so I decided to go see "About Time" last night.
While watching, I remembered why I rarely go to romantic comedies during their movie theater release any more and why I probably won't go to any more by Richard Curtis. They often have a warped perspective on love.
In "About Time," a father (Bill Nighy) tells his son Tim (Domhnall Gleason) that the males in his family have the ability to time travel. They can go in a cupboard or toilet, clench their fists, close their eyes and wind up at whichever moment in time from their own personal history they want. Tim decides that he wants to use this power to ensure that he finds true love. Hijinks ensue.
The hijinks are meant to be funny and some people around me in the theater did laugh. Mostly men, but occasionally women, too. I found a lot of Tim's actions more creepy than amusing.
Any time a girl tells Tim she might prefer something else, he finds a cupboard and does it all over. Perhaps the most disturbing thing he does is to stalk his future wife Mary (Rachel McAdams) after his time travel makes him lose her phone number (and the experience of meeting her for the first time). He learns that she likes Kate Moss and presents himself as a Kate Moss fan. He learns she recently acquired a boyfriend and he goes back in time to ensure that she doesn't actually meet that boyfriend. His attempts to make his life better are typically concentrated on romantic, rather than financial efforts, but he also evidently goes back in time to fix the outcomes of his trials as a lawyer.
We are supposed to sympathize with our bumbling hero. Instead I found myself thinking that it was sad to present as true love a scenario in which the woman never experiences her real first meeting with her husband, in which the time traveling male decides to propose in a desperate rush after realizing that his first love is not right for him, in which only the man's experience of the relationship, crudely manipulated to achieve the ends he desires, is true and means anything. It's a disturbing view of intimacy.
By the end of the movie, Tim comes around to living life not as a time-traveler, but as an ordinary person who values every mundane minute. I appreciate the sentiment, but it's entirely unearned. While not a bad movie and at times enjoyable, "About Time" also doesn't totally satisfy the craving that thoughtful romantics go to these types of movies to satisfy. Interestingly, the only true love the movie depicts is the love between a father and son.
A half dozen older romantic movies that I think are actually pretty good are available to stream on Netflix: "Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind," "A Room With a View," "Monsoon Wedding," "Shakespeare in Love," "Say Anything," and "Roman Holiday." Can you think of any recent romantic movies that you would recommend? Did you enjoy "About Time?"