About Time

Opens Friday

At least 248 feature films have revolved around the idea of bending the hours to human advantage. So it comes as a refreshing surprise that About Time unfolds into something not quite the same as that old movie.

The film from Richard Curtis, the prolific writer of such trifles as Notting Hill, Bridget Jones’s Diary and Love Actually (which he directed), is just as much a romantic comedy as it is a warmly meditative study of family, with surprising humor and a point to be made. We meet young and unsure Tim (Domhnall Gleeson), who is told by his father (Bill Nighy), with whom he shares a particularly close relationship, that the men in their family have the ability to travel through time. Tim discovers how to best use this gift to his advantage, at first by kissing a girl on New Year’s Eve, a feat he’d been too hesitant to attempt the first time around, and also by improving several first impressions.

When Tim meets and falls in love with Mary (Rachel McAdams), he discovers one of the most inconvenient consequences of time travel: If one past action is changed to smooth things over, something favorable is often inadvertently undone.

About Time presents some beautifully believable, funny characters and some equally lovely sentimentsso much so that, at several points, viewers are clearly waiting for something tragic to occur. It feels like something has to happen to teach Tim a dramatic comeuppance such as, “Don’t tamper with the universe too much,” or “The cosmos isn’t meant to be controlled by you.” But instead, we’re given bittersweet moments of love and lossa much more resonant approachwith a side of British humor.

Of course, instances of unspeakable tragedy or a less picturesque lifestyle could rock the film’s premise a bit, and Tim’s ability to keep his superpower a secret from his wife seems a little too easy. But the overarching sentiment remains that time travel isn’t necessary, because it’s already what we’re doing every day.

This article appeared in print with the headline “Found at sea, lost in time.”