With Yesterday, a rom-com Trojan-horsed in a concept comedy that imagines a world where Paul, John, George and Ringo never formed The Beatles, Danny Boyle (Slumdog Millionaire) has allowed the musical catalog of that formative group to do most of the dramatic heavy lifting. If you’re up for a poppy movie about Beatles music that co-stars Ed Sheeran, this is the movie for you. Otherwise – yeah, probably best to not pay it much mind. Using just enough of Boyle’s trademark flair behind the camera to simulate a modicum of visual intrigue, Yesterday deeply fails its quasi-sci-fi conceit by treating the intriguing parallel universe concept as mere window dressings for a lukewarm romance between struggling artist Jack Malik (Himesh Patel) who strikes it big exploiting his knowledge of Beatles music, and his DIY manager Ellie (Lily James). The movie earns good graces when its blazing through the band’s discography and seeing the world at large react to their music for the first time but the rom-com-heavy second half drags it all off the rails with Oscar-nominated screenwriter Richard Curtis (Love Actually) succumbing to one tired, obnoxious cliché after another in increasingly painful manner. (C) Read More
Directed by Richard Curtis
Starring Domhnall Gleeson, Bill Nighy, Rachel McAdams, Lydia Wilson, Lindsay Duncan, Richard Cordery, Tom Hollander, Margo Robbie
Comedy, Drama, Sci-Fi
A truly good-natured movie is almost impossible to find nowadays. Every major studio release hot off the production line comes caked in ice-packed grit, each romance more a thing of cool-blooded calculation than the starry-eyed butterfly-tummied trances of acoustic guitar ballads. Even the biggest name in romance, the haughty Nicholas Sparks, tends towards conclusions of masturbatory tragedy. Someone has to either die or get laid out with a terminal case of cancer. It’s as if audiences can’t handle the sweet without the sour – all must end in woe or, at the very least, a shade of woe. Look at the great romantic saga of the past ten year; I’m referring of course to Twilight. Even if you strip away the Mormon patriarchal underpinning and grade-A beastly acting, this “great romance” involves a stoic vampire and an even steelier teen. There’s no beaded passion here – nothing beneath the carnal urges and “hot and bothered” eye-banging – just angsty stirrings in the nether regions mislabeled as “love.”
Examining a real relationship, or at least any that I’ve seen, under the context of this brand of ironclad romance, there’s very little overlap of note. And yet, the lukewarm romance soldiers on: the bastion of 21st century detachment and bone-deep aversion to commitment. This template of 21st century romance has become centered on a singular quest for detached self-satisfaction that it’s turned against everything that love stands for. And then comes About Time, an earnest well-meaning love story amongst a pack of wolves. It’s quite simply, a breath of fresh air.
Released amongst a rash of hefty dramas and mindless actioners, this purely delightful romance wears its heart on its sleeve in bold, sincere patches. While many romantic competitors keep an emotional distance from the audience through the use of sarcasm and a predictable three act meet-up-break-up-make-up formula, About Time is unafraid to alter the formula, scraping foreseeable twists and turns for the emotional heft of real family dynamics and all the baggage that comes with that…oh and time travel.
Yes, time travel plays a significant part of the narrative as on the eve of his 21st birthday, Tim (Domhnall Gleeson) is let in on a little family secret by his Dad (Bill Nighy): the men in the family have a peculiar ability to ball their fists and leap through time. In fact, the ability to time travel goes back as far in the family tree as the rascally orange hair which runs rampant in this English family. It takes no great stretch of the imagination to fantasize about how we would use these life-altering powers, but in About Time any ideas of grandiose heroics are by and large shelved. Meek and ginger Tim wants to use his powers for one thing and one thing only: to snag a girlfriend.
When it comes time to procure the finest vixen in the land, the “traveling” bits are entirely effects free. There are no bright neon lights or pin wheeled wormholes, a directorial decision of “less is more” that works wonders within the foundation of the story. Unlike many plots involving time travel, About Time doesn’t spend too much time establishing the guidelines for the time travel sandbox, but it does play by its own set of rules. But rather than getting convoluted in the details of time travel’s idiosyncrasies, the rules here are simple: your actions can change the events of the past so 1) You can only travel to points and places in time that you’ve already been to before (i.e. no peeking into the future and no going back and killing Hitler) 2) Don’t alter any event before the birth of your child (different sperm, different baby) 3) Realize that there’s some things that time travel can’t fix. Some things just need to be accepted or learned through the arduous journey that is life.
As much as nitpicky drones love their plot-hole-seeking pastime, any attempt to dissect and discredit the functionality of the time travel here is moot because, well, its pretty rock solid. However hokey a time-jumping premise sounds in the midst of a love story, it’s used to surprisingly compelling effect and is far more nuanced and well-mannered than you might otherwise expect. And even though it’s there, time travel really isn’t what About Time is about. Rather, it uses the fantasy to tap into emotional reality.
Rather than use his time-traveling talent for typical teenage debauchery, Tim saves his ability as a last ditch effort of sorts, only used to better the circumstances of those around him, to avoid the unpleasantries that tend to pop their head up when least expected, and most importantly, to revisit the best days of his life. About Time ponders the idea that we can live life to the fullest not because of magical abilities but, perhaps, in spite of them.
As for the romance at the center of the film, Rachel McAdams flirts with a new kind of woman- a mousey brunette, steadfast in her bookwormery and emotional reservations. It’s perhaps the least showy role she’s done and for once, she is entirely tolerable if not completely adorable. Newcomer Gleeson is equally charming, although not nearly in the traditional sense we’ve come to expect from a romantic male lead.
Bumbling, awkward and entirely orange-haired, his Tim makes up for his lack of suave with the good decision-making skills rare in a rom-com male. But the story is larger than the affable romance at its core, it’s about family; how families come together, depend on each other, and, ultimately, how parents pass the torch to their offspring. Like a good-natured Butterfly Effect, the most emotionally pungent material is unearthed in Gleeson and Nighy’s father-son relationship, so much so that, it might earn a sniffle, maybe even a tear or two from those apt to be touched by emotional films.
Regardless of its breezy premise and total lack of a bad bone in its body, this is the sparse romantic drama that totally works. Brushing off the sleazy staples of modern day rom-coms – the hunky leads, reheated man-wrong-woman, woman-wrong-man clichés, and snarky, obnoxious best friends – Richard Curtis has found something far more earnest, good intentioned and true. With an archer’s marksmanship, he manages to land a bullseye in our emotional main vein on a number of occasions. However coated with a healthy layer of rose-colored glaze, About Time is bold enough to be a nice guy amongst an army of grit and cavalier cool. This time though, nice guys don’t finish last.