Richard Curtis, the man behind hit British rom-coms such as Love Actually, Notting Hill, and Bridget Jones’s Diary, delivers what would seem a complex film about time travel on the exterior but is actually a thoughtful and warm-hearted romance. MIGHT CONTAIN SPOILERS.
21 year old Tim Lake (Domnhall Gleeson) has lived a typically normal and happy life lives with his family in Cornwall but everything is turned upside down when his father (Bill Nighy) expresses to him a uniquely wonderful ability shared only with the males in the family; time-travel.
The men of the family must find a darkened space, clench their fists, and think of a desired point in time within their life-span to travel to. Tim uses his newfound power to capture the attention of Charlotte (Margot Robbie) his sister’s friend that stayed with them over the summer. After attempting to make a move on her last night before leaving, Charlotte expresses that maybe if he’d tried earlier there could have been something between them. So of course, Tim travels back to her first day and makes his feelings heard, to which she replies ‘We’ll see how it goes and see me again at the end of summer.’ In short, time travel nor little else can create love.
He leaves his close-knit family for the very daunting setting of London, where he stays with his father’s friend Harry played by the delightfully foul-mouthed Tom Hollander. It’s here that he encounters Mary (Rachel McAdams), with whom he repeats several meetings, conversations, and even sexual encounters to yield the best results. Their relationship flourishes and we become accustomed to his ability to have two, three, or more takes at an exchange.
His life complicates as his sister begins to drink heavily and his father is diagnosed with cancer. After the sweet joy of having children and a happy marriage, he rediscovers that his virtue cannot cure cancer nor his sister’s alcoholism. As his father passes away he leaves him with one last piece of advice; that he should relive everyday at least once, no matter how normal or mundane. By doing so, Tim finds pure happiness and after some time realises that he no longer even uses his power anymore.
Initially, I found this film to do everything a rom-com shouldn’t, playing on predictable genre conventions which culminate in a very cliché end product. In fact, the beginning of the film showed no sign of any narrative substance, no class contrast in Notting Hill or anthological facet of Love Actually, just a plain, dry romance. You could even draw on the arguably misogynistic connotations of only males being able to time-travel if you really wanted to contest the film, as well as the potentially inferred meaning that true love and a happy life are only possible through impossible means.
But the ultimate message of the film is undoubtedly worthwhile, certain aspects of the film were also commendable in terms of filmmaking; as with any time-travel film continuity, mise-en-scene, and especially acting all fall under the microscope. In the end, it has nothing to do with time-travel at all, it deals with a universally accessible and appreciable message. Time-travel is simply a medium to portray the true beauties in life, in which case I would say it’s not even truly a romance as it doesn’t exclusively revolve around the conventional ‘eros’ love associated with romance films but accesses other Greek schools of love from ‘philia’ (love of friends), ‘storge’ (reciprocated love between parent/offspring) and ‘agape’ (the love of life and spirituality). Call it cringey but it effectively drew upon the happiness of simple life.