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NYFF: Charm Offensive

TFE's coverage of the 51st New York Film Festival (Sep 27-Oct 14) continues with JA discussing About Time.

Charm is a hell of a drug. Be it in real life or up on a movie screen, it can intoxicate a person right out of their senses, making the charmer in question immune from all kinds of quibbles - major or minor, animal vegetable or mineral. If that certain somebody or somebodies are lighting off sparks, we the charmed, defenseless and weak, are willing to overlook a lot whilst under their spell. Put those fireworks front and center in a romantic comedy and you're pretty well good to go...

And so it goes with Richard Curtis' new flick About Time. There's actually a sequence in this movie where the beloveds at center stage (played by Domhnall Gleeson and Rachel McAdams) are falling for each other and we're given a montage of time passing involving wacky outfit changes and god save us all subway buskers, and yet instead of reaching into my brain through my ear canal and lobotomizing myself right then and there I only rolled my eyes a little - not even a lot! That's a feat, one I must lay down in awe at the feet of our charm-riddled lovebirds. ("It's the H1N1 of romantic comedies!" = my poster blurb.) I almost always find McAdams worth watching when she tries (at last year's fest I positively luxuriated in the sight of her campily swanning around in lingerie in Brian DePalma's Passion) and here she's at her most homespun loveable, fringe and all - she knows her way around and back again with a sly knowing smirk.

But I'd be lying if I said it my scales (and the movie's, it must be said) weren't tilted ever so slightly in the favor of Gleeson - indeed I came out of this movie thinking I'd just been introduced to the world's skinniest gingeriest movie star since Julia Roberts squealed "Well color me happy there's a sofa in here for two," in thigh high pleather boots and a Carol Channing wig. Domhnall's been building up a memorable resume with everything I've seen him in, from Never Let Me Go to Anna Karenina, but here, to borrow a turn of phrase from Mama Grape, he shimmers and he glows. Total charm offensive.

He's so captivating that not only can I overlook mad-cap subway musician antics, I can very nearly tip-toe right past all kinds of questionable moral quandaries that his time-travel antics cough up, like gosh there's nothing at all creepy about relationships built on excessive one-sided manipulations (they're not really lie lies), and gosh, women don't so much need personal agency, do they, as long as somebody parrots their girly likes back at them. (A fixation on Kate Moss is a really strange fixation for a person to have though. Really very.)

Indeed the movie manages to swerve around these sorts of questions by pushing the third act's beating heart, where our expectations are set for the standard relationship implosion-to-reconciliation arc, into the body of a father-son picture instead (Bill Nighy's basically just playing Bill Nighy, or the Bill Nighy we all imagine Bill Nighy is, but I still like Bill Nighy, so I was okay with it); there's life in the fact that the movie manages to side-step our well-trod expectations, to be sure, but the movie actually kind of forgets about McAdams once she's good and won and churning out the babies. I hoped there'd be some curiosity bestowed upon her character regarding her amour's constant shuffling off into cupboards, at least? But that wasn't to be - she's set on the shelf while the film unearths its true colors, as a tear-jerking fantasy about family and memory and the passage of time, and also ping pong. Most meaningful ping pong!

Honestly though, truth be told, I was so high off what Domnhall was giving me it was only once the film was over and my love hangover set in that I began picking our personal love affair apart. And even then notsomuch. Subway buskers come and go, but Domhnall's grin is forever.

You should all make time (groan) for About Time when it plays at the festival tonight, 10/2, or 10/6. Then come tell me whether I was blinded by ginger or not.

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Reader Comments (6)

Thank you so much for finally making me realize what this movie has on me. It's charm. You see, I watched 4 movies over the weekend (that's my own record, so exhausted and tired): About Time, The Butler, Runner Runner and Rush, and I actually ranked About Time the highest among them all. My friends asked me why is it so and I can't really figure out why only that I really like it. Now I found the word for it: Charm.

October 1, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterPJ

I love you for this. I felt like a loser for melting into a puddle of unicorn goo after I watched this, but this man was SO lovely that my judgy brain failed to pick up any misogyny and just went along with whatever he did to win Regina George's heart.

I think that the main reason why McAdams is forgotten is because this isn't as much a rom-com as it's a story about the endless love between a father and a son, something we don't get to see much of in movies nowadays.

October 1, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterJose

Great review JA! I've been very curious for this movie since I saw the trailer a few months ago. First of all because I have a soft spot for McAdams (yeah, I know she's had quite a few misses here and there, but I think she's a great actress), and second, because Richard Curtis is directing, and I got a 'Love actually' vibe from this (who doesn't love that movie for gods shakes?haha). Have you seen Domhnall in the tv-series 'Black Mirror'? He was creepy as hell in his (heartbreaking) episode.

BTW, you aren't the only one charmed by 'About time'. It won the audience award at the 'San Sebastian' film festival here in Spain last week.

October 1, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterJavier

Nailed it. I've only seen the trailer, but even there Gleeson's charm was enough to make me want to see the whole thing.

October 1, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterRoark

Jason is very much aware of my thoughts on this movie - when the *trailer* offends me I figure I should steer clear - but, yes, Domhall is quite a cutie.

I wonder what third time travelling romance Rachel McAdams will make (and I will avoid).

October 2, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterGlenn

Just saw the film today and completely agree. The film has its flaws but Gleeson is undoubtedly a capable leading man.

October 7, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterSquasher88

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