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Entries in Love Actually (2)

Thursday
Oct312013

About Time

We all wish we could go back in time. Remember that time you said something stupid and hurt someone’s feelings? Or that time you stumbled over your words while talking to the prettiest girl you’ve ever met? Or when tragedy struck a friend or family member? What if you could go back and do it all again, changing those moments for the better? That’s the premise behind “About Time,” the latest film from Richard Curtis, the writer and director of 2003’s romance hit, “Love Actually.” What’s explored here isn’t exactly new ground, but the way it’s handled is positively exquisite. If 2009’s “The Time Traveler’s Wife” is an example of how not to tackle similar themes, “About Time” is the exact opposite. It nails it to a degree few films that explore life and love do, making it one of the best and most emotionally affecting movies of the year.

Tim (Domhnall Gleeson) has just turned 21. Aside from the expectations the monumental birthday brings, his life seems pretty normal, but his father (Bill Nighy) is about to change it drastically. It turns out that all men in his family have had an extraordinary ability. They can actually go back in time. All it takes is a dark, secluded room and some concentration and they can be whisked off to any place they’re thinking of, with a couple caveats: they can’t go forward in time, only back, and they can only revisit places they’ve already been and change events they’ve already experienced. This unique ability gives the otherwise timid and introverted Tim a chance to try new things without consequence. Eventually, he ends up in London working a boring job at a law firm, but one night, he meets Mary (Rachel McAdams) and he immediately falls in love.

The story that follows is one of both utter joy and inescapable sadness. It’s one that explores the craziness of life and the hopelessness that one finds when they realize that some things simply can’t be changed. Even with this power, Tim finds that when one thing is fixed, another is broken. It’s a movie that acknowledges that life is messy and it sometimes isn’t going to play out the way you want it to, but it also stops to see its beauty. Throughout his time twisting journey, Tim realizes that happiness isn’t in fixing life’s stumbles, but in embracing them. But perhaps more than anything, he learns that the true key to happiness is simply in living and not taking for granted this wonderful and magical ride we’ve all been granted, in noticing the little things and not letting precious moments pass you by.

While these life lessons are hardly revelatory, they’re handled with the utmost care, turning what could easily be an overdose of cheese into something that’s truly beautiful and easy to embrace and understand. All but those who have led the easiest of lives will be able to connect to the raw emotion presented here. Much of this success comes from the technical expertise in its crafting. “About Time” is a beautiful film to watch, with one of its few downsides being an unnecessarily shaky camera. The camera is so uncomfortable wonky at times that it’s difficult to even see the emotion on the character’s faces, particularly in an early scene when Tim’s walking home after meeting Mary, his elation barely registering because of it. While such shakiness can add to a more hectic movie, it doesn’t fit this film’s generally calm demeanor.

But what really makes “About Time” work is its performances. Bill Nighy is as charming as ever and Domhnall Gleeson proves his chops after working in side roles in films like “Dredd” and “Harry Potter,” but it’s the lovely Rachel McAdams that really shines here. She’s one of the most likable and beautiful actresses working today, but she is normalized here. Her hair is occasionally off kilter, her dresses a bit nerdy and her overall beauty is toned down, but it’s her charisma that makes it work. When Tim runs into his first love, who by all accounts is a much prettier and physically desirable woman, one night in London and she invites him to her place, he turns her down and rushes back home to Mary. There’s an unexplainable connection he feels with her, but we get it. McAdams creates in Mary the girl all guys want to bring home to their parents.

“About Time” is admittedly a little rough around the edges, particularly in its clumsy handling of its numerous side characters like Tim’s perpetually unhappy playwright friend, Harry, played by the criminally underused Tom Hollander, but those rough edges are minor when compared to the joy that encompasses them. This film is relatable to anyone who has ever made a mistake they wish they could fix, anyone who stumbled over their words when trying to explain to their crush how much they cared for them and anyone who has lived through life’s sad inevitabilities. “About Time” may be too sentimental for some to handle, but the romantically inclined won’t want to miss it.

About Time receives 4.5/5

Friday
Feb122010

Valentine's Day

There are few days of the year that make me feel as miserable as I do on Valentine's Day. It's one of those days where the single become non-existent, where swooning couples become the center of attention. As far as this day is concerned, if you aren't in a relationship, you mean nothing. My cynicism for the day goes far beyond what I've typed here, so imagine my dismay at the thought of sitting through a movie that bears its title. But my job is not to judge based on my preconceived thoughts on the actual day, but rather on the film itself and in doing so I found that Valentine's Day actually isn't half bad.

Much like Love Actually, Valentine's Day features an ensemble cast with dozens of notable actors including Julia Roberts, Bradley Coooper, Jessica Alba, Jessica Biel, Jennifer Garner, Jamie Foxx, Patrick Dempsey, Topher Grace, Anne Hathaway, Ashton Kutcher, Taylor Lautner and even Taylor Swift. However, this is more like a second rate Love Actually rather than a direct comparison. While that film is an absolute delight and explores love in more authentic ways, Valentine's Day is hit and miss with more than its fair share of poorly drawn out romances that feel forced from the page. There isn't a single normal relationship in the entire movie. Even the 51 year old relationship between veteran actors Hector Elizondo and Shirley MacLaine that is meant to show the everlasting endurance of true love proves to be less perfect than expected, with an unnecessary affair popping up in conversation halfway through the movie.

Now, I've purposely skipped over the plot description of the film because there are a large number of storylines, with each character sporting their own, and they are juggled relatively well. Most of them get equal screen time, though a few are left at the wayside and never fully come to a conclusion.

Keeping in mind the actors above, it's easy to see how inconsistent this movie can be. With great talent from Julia Roberts, Jamie Foxx and Anne Hathaway comes the less so Taylor Lautner, Jessica Alba and Ashton Kutcher. Actually, the first two characters introduced in the entire movie were Kutcher and Alba with a scene that ends in their engagement. Kutcher and Alba? That's a recipe for disaster.

Surprisingly, Kutcher's storyline ended up being the best part of the movie. He's the guy that I suspect most men in the audience will relate to the most. He's euphoric with the thought of love after his engagement, but even when he later realizes love isn't as joyous as he originally imagined, he thinks of others. He finds his friends and tries to prevent them from making the same mistakes and feeling the pain that he does. He's a wholly likable guy, most notably when a young boy walks in his flower shop and orders a dozen roses for his elementary school crush. He hands over 11 dollars, far short of what a dozen roses costs and Kutcher simply smiles and asks what the lucky girl's name is. His character is written well and he downplays his usual insufferable comedic antics to fit the role. It still feels weird saying it, but Ashton Kutcher was the shining light in an otherwise mediocre film.

Of course, his storyline was still fairly predictable, as were nearly all of the others. I knew exactly what was going to happen to Garner, Biel, and even Roberts, whose storyline was nonetheless very sweet. The only one that caught me by surprise was Bradley Cooper's. The movie smartly set his storyline up in a manner that makes you believe you know where it is heading, but then turns it 180 degrees and goes somewhere else. It was this surprise that ultimately pushed me to the side of a recommendation.

Lucky for it because most of this thing simply lacked the charm or wit of its far superior spiritual brethren Love Actually. Not to mention that Taylor Swift is simply atrocious and needs to stay as far away from movie cameras as she possibly can. Of course, expecting it to match Love Actually is lofty, so as long as you don't focus on how much worse it is, you might be surprised at how much better your perception will be.

Valentine's Day receives 2.5/5