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Mary (Rachel McAdams) and Tim (Domhnall Gleeson) in About Time, a comedy about love and time travel.

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★★★★✩

About Time

Directed by Richard Curtis

Starring Domhall Gleeson, Rachel McAdams, and Bill Nighy

Rated R

Now playing

Richard Curtis has written several charming romantic comedies, including Love Actually, Notting Hill, and Bridget Jones’ Diary. With About Time, it’s clear that Curtis hasn’t lost his magic touch; it’s yet another beautiful, funny, sentimental tale about love and life.

The story begins as Tim Lake (Domhall Gleeson) turns 21. His father summons him downstairs to inform him that all the male members of the family can time travel — only backwards. The introduction of this phenomenon is as awkward as it sounds. Given Tim’s averageness, it seems barely plausible at all.

However, though he comes off as extremely needy, Gleeson’s winning portrayal of Tim makes the character sympathetic, and luckily, the story is much better at showing than telling. Tim immediately finds a dark closet and travels back to New Year’s Eve, where he takes the chance to kiss a girl at midnight instead of awkwardly shaking her hand. He soon returns to the present alight with hope. He’s determined to use his power to find his true love, and the early part of the film is devoted to him learning the bounds of his powers. He learns, for example, that he can’t use time travel to convince a friend to fall in love with him.

And there are other things that time travel will change. Tim travels to London to become a lawyer, and stumbles upon Mary (Rachel McAdams) at a blind date in a restaurant. When he’s forced to travel back in time to fix his neighbor’s play, he finds that he has “lost” Mary in the present — she doesn’t remember him. He tracks her down by remembering that she loved Kate Moss, hilariously ruining his chances with worse and worse pickup lines. Luckily, he uses his time travel powers to redo several of his worst pickup lines until he has it down to a science.

Of course, they fall happily in love, and have a darling child. But a single wrench is thrown into their plan: Tim’s sister Kit Kat has not been faring nearly as well as Tim. She’s become an alcoholic and suffers horrifying injuries in car crash where she is drunk. Due to a seemingly arbitrary rule of time travel, Tim can’t fix this problem with a trip in the time machine, and must instead use ordinary means to convince Kit Kat to move beyond her destructive ways. In a dramatic shift from the earlier half of the movie, Tim is shown trying to rehabilitate his sister and figure out his life. Instead of using his powers to make small fixes in his life, he starts using it to appreciate how he lives every day — all the small joys and troubles.

At times, the movie seems confused by the use of time travel. Though time travel has consequences throughout the movie, its rules are added arbitrarily to keep the idea of time travel from becoming an easy fix-all. It’s a shame, because the story is extremely arresting, and the awkward introduction of laws distracts from it.

Towards the end, About Time strikes an introspective tone. At its core, the movie is neither truly about time travel, nor even about love. It is about living our lives with purpose. Though the conclusion was sappy and predictable, watching Tim learn the universal truths of life was at times hilarious, and ultimately touching. About Time gives a brief chance for us to escape our own problems and remember how wonderful life is.