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Retro Review: ‘About Time’ is the time loop subgenre’s saving grace

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Liza Sheehy

This article is part of the “Retro Review” series. Each month, four films — united by a singular theme — are assessed. The theme for January 2024 is “time loop.”

“I just try to live every day as if I’ve deliberately come back to this one, to enjoy it, as if it was the final full day of my extraordinary, ordinary life.”

It can’t get any better than this.

The lows of the time loop genre may be below the surface of the earth (it’s probably somewhere in the lower mantle), however, everyone should just focus on the one high. Richard Curtis’ “About Time” is not only by far the best film that this subgenre has to offer, but it’s one of the best mixtures of wholesome bliss and ugly sobbing ever crafted.

Every ounce of negativity that has come with reviewing time loop films will be made up for with overwhelming positivity for this masterpiece.

The 2013 film centers around a young man named Tim (Domnhall Gleeson) and his wonderful family. When his father James (Bill Nighy) reveals that the men in the family can travel through time, Tim’s world, as one would expect, is turned upside down. Faced with an exciting, yet terrifying, new power, Tim sets out on a journey to find the one thing he’s always ached for: love. 

Yes, the plot summary on the surface sounds like a cheesy time travel movie with what sounds like gooey romance. But somehow, someway, Curtis created a 123-minute through-and-through triumph.

Many of these time loop films kept running into the same problems: Their protagonists weren’t likable or relatable until at least halfway through the film. The viewers are asleep by then — that can’t be happening.

It’s as if Curtis noticed this and decided to make every single main protagonist one that viewers want to catapult out of their seats to root for like there’s no tomorrow (time loop reference!).

Tim is carefully crafted as a goofy and pure guy who is just so wonderful. Mary (Rachel McAdams), who helps Tim to fulfill his goal of finding love, is just as wonderful (if not more). Not going to play the comparing game though, because that is just unfair to the incredible characters that Curtis crafted.

However, Nighy’s performance is out of this world. Portraying one of the most heartwarming on-screen fathers that cinema has ever seen, the veteran actor may have delivered his most important performance here. Line after line, scene after scene, Tim’s father oozes love and joy. It’s just beautiful. Nighy’s acting and execution deserve an article of its own if it is to be given any justice.

James is his son’s best man at his wedding (so wholesome), and when delivering his speech, he says, “We all get old and tell the same tales too many times. But try and marry someone kind. And this is a kind man with a good heart. I’m not particularly proud of many things in my life, but I am very proud to be the father of my son.”

Sobbing.

Uncle Desmond (Richard Cordery) as the forgetful and innocent member of the family is just too good. As Tim says in the beginning, “He was the most charming and least clever man you could ever meet.” Whether it was the scene of Uncle Desmond forgetting who Tim was marrying (while sitting right next to Mary), or the heartfelt scene of Desmond talking about Tim’s father, he’s just so cute.

There is just no shortage of heartfelt and funny characters or moments in this film. The viewer just feels like a part of the family, and, man, that is a special thing to feel when watching a film.

If anyone is reading this and hasn’t watched the film, please go to a nearby store and buy as many tissue boxes as possible before indulging. That might not even be enough for the amount of tears viewers might shed during this film. Whether they’re happy or sad tears, they just keep on coming. To anyone watching this with their family, get twice as many tissues.

Other aspects that this film absolutely knocks out of the park and into the stratosphere include the memorable and quotable script (like Tim’s killer line at the top of this review), perfect pacing and its message.

The film also benefits from some surprise appearances from Margot Robbie (just before her breakthrough role in “The Wolf of Wall Street” later that year), as well as a quick cameo from Richard E. Grant — which presents the perfect opportunity to plug Grant’s incredible and one-of-a-kind Instagram. It’s too adorable to not include.

This film can’t be recommended enough and, even though it has such sad and gut-wrenching moments, it can give viewers a reinvigorated energy toward life. And that is beautiful.

Oh, to skip rocks with Bill Nighy on a beach.

And the awards for the best and the worst time-loop films recapped in “Retro Reviews” go to…

Best of the month: “About Time” (Richard Curtis, 2013) — a perfect movie to cry to, a perfect movie to laugh to and the best this subgenre has to offer. 

Worst of the month: “Groundhog Day” (Harold Ramis, 1993) — a bit of a letdown for the film that influenced so many others.

About the Contributor
Liza Sheehy, Deputy Design Editor
Liza Sheehy is a third-year history, culture, and law major with a minor in Spanish and journalism studies. She is currently serving as deputy design editor for The News. Liza is originally from Baltimore, Maryland and has been designing for The News since spring 2022.
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