Sunday, 28 September 2014

About Time

I am really embarassed to say I only watched this Curtis film for a first time around ten days ago. About time huh? I have no valid excuse other than I have been trying to catch up on watching all of Hugh Grant's films and TV series (except for the really scary ones!), dating as far back as 1982 (finding to buy Privileged is proving frustratingly difficult if not impossible).

Now I do love to tear a film into all its little bits and pieces and it was a joy to do so with this one. Its familiar writing, English setting and typical Curtis characters had me in dreamland for two hours (or more actually, as I kept pausing the film to take notes!). Now I don't usually do that (stop a film at all on a first viewing) but there was just so much to take in, so much also that I wanted to jot down, that it was necessary and also fun to watch it with my notepad in hand.

From the very start, the film drew me into Curtis' world with the familiar voiceover, this time by Domhnall Gleeson, who plays Tim. Not only is this a repeat of the way in which Love Actually and Notting Hill start, but it is very close to the Notting Hill scenario in that it is used to convey the main character's view of the little world that makes up his every day. Even the accent is decidedly similar to that of Hugh Grant. Only Tim is a red-haired guy of average looks and shy demeanor and reminded me more of Curtis himself when younger than the thirty-eight-year-old Hugh as William Thacker. In fact, this got me thinking. I have heard Richard say in a clip that Four Weddings and a Funeral was inspired by a real-life incident where he did meet a girl at a wedding who was staying at the same pub as him and like Charles he had decided to crash at some friends' instead. Unlike Charles, he went on to his friends' and sat there thinking 'what if'. So now I ask, what if this was his take on that night? Tim goes back in time over and over to chance dating the girl he likes.

But the similaries between Tim and Richard are nothing compared to the multitude of similarities between the script of this film and those of Curtis' other big titles. There are so many phrases that took me back in time. "I'm so sorry" (allusive to the spilt orange juice scene in Notting Hill and yet another sorry from William after the paparazzi scene), "the love of my life" (Billy Mack in Love Actually), "there is this one thing" (PM David to USA President in Love Actually) and "see what happens then, shall we?" (Bridget Jones to Daniel Cleaver) might be easy enough phrases to find time and again and so also in About Time. But not so the more elaborate "I just wondered, whether by any chance" which is quite the kind of stuttered phrase you would expect of Charles in Four Weddings and A Funeral. Also not easy to forget that "it was the day that would change my life forever" in About Time is comparable to William's "this was the day that was going to change my life forever" in the 1999 Notting Hill.

As I focus on wording and so on Tim's phrase "It was the summer of suntan and torture" I toy with the idea that torture in love also seems to be a recurrent trend for Curtis' main characters. Charles is made miserable by the thought that he is yet to find a girl he can settle down with and marry. Meanwhile William is in agony over Anna's very existence whenever they are apart. Also, in Love Actually, the Prime Minister is distressed in his original intent of ignoring Nathalie and Harry is constantly tortured by the guilt and desire of seeing Mia. The one divergence I find in Richard's style of script as compared to his older ones is his non-use of monologues. Despite that Richard finally took Hugh Grant's advise that no one in real life does that, I must agree with Richard that people do speak to themselves when alone (or at least I do!).

There are many other things in this film that had me grinning and lapsing into flashbacks of other films. Tim crashes at Harry's place at one point in the film and in his very first conversation with Harry, the latter mentions Warhol (Anna Scott and William discuss Chagall, another painter, in Notting Hill). Maybe an indication that Curtis is, like me, a lover of art that's full of bright colour? Also Harry's scruffy unkempt kitchen screams 'bachelor' and reminds me of the one used in the set that makes up W. Thacker's 'house with the blue door' (sorry if I ruined your image that there actually is a house in Notting Hill behind whose closed doors dashing Hugh acted his parts).

I could go on forever with the comparisons but I will leave it at just this last one before delving further into the plot and what makes this film tick. Right after their second 'First' date, Tim and Mary walk along a street in London in the same kind of spirit, mood and with the same interest that sees William and Anna down the road from Honey's birthday dinner to their 'whoopsidaisy' literal gatecrashing moment.

Now whilst Tim does not use Thacker's endearing phrase, his life seems full of whoopsidaisy moments that has him rushing for his dark-place time machine over and over from the very moment he is told of its existence. Curtis loves long films and good thing too, given this one would not work as a shorter version. It takes time, you know, to get your character to go back in time. And for all those of us who've said, at some point or another, how much we wish there was a time machine to take us back in order to avoid those dreadful faux-pas we've made in life, this is the film that shows us that it's not all it's cracked up to be. Isn't it lovely to go back in order to save your sister from a dreadful accident? To keep repeating those days you spent with your dad before that cold word cancer stripped him away from you? Now what if, in doing so, you lose not only the bad but also the good things that have come your way since?

This film is a lesson in gratitude. Maybe that is why the wedding here comes in the middle and not the end. This is not a romantic comedy first and foremost. Life, it seems, is more important than romance. Through love, all other things will then follow. The video montage that sees Tim and Mary forever hanging out at Maida Vale Station to the tune of 'How Long Will I Love You' might be beautifully presented (and remind me in some ways very much of the seasons sequence in Notting Hill) but it is also a hint of what is to come. They will love each other forever and therefore, not only through a wedding but also through births and deaths. Which leads me back to the film's creator who I am guessing not only believes in Love (regardless of whether marriage should be a key word) but also in Life and living it to the full, as I would hazard thinking that even the three pregnancies/babies that Tim and Mary have might have been conceived from Richard's own delightful family experiences? Which is why Tim chooses first to relive each day to make the most of it and later understands that what is important is not to go back but to make the most of what is.

This is essentially a film with a plot but that does not mean it is not also a masterpiece of writing and direction. It takes a witty person to make the conversations work here, especially in view that Tim must often blunder in order to have an excuse to go back to relive his scenes. (Which does not mean he won't blunder again!!) It also takes experience in order to direct a film that will span long years in the character's life whilst making the transitions seemless. And last but not least, it takes a good actor with impeccible pronunciation to bumble along from the start to the end of what is essentially a positive and artsy take on Life.

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