Friday, November 29, 2013

About Time (2013)

I saw the trailer and thought I already knew everything about this movie going in. I figured hero traveled to the present from another time, fell in love with contemporary woman and started building a life with her when some plot device loomed to drag him back to his own period and separate them forever through time and space. In reality, the movie was much simpler, more unique and endlessly charming than that.

Tim is not so much a time traveler as a time tourist. On his 21st birthday he learns that he can revisit points in his own lifetime, it's a family trait passed down to all males. He can't travel into the future, only back into his own past. He lives in the present day with his family: a wry, plain-spoken mother; a father who retired at 50 and spends all of his time reading, playing table tennis with his adored son; or being amusing; a crazy sister, Kit Kat, who is more annoying than endearing to me, but is beloved by Tim; and an affectionate Uncle D who, removed from much around him, always seems to have his mind on something else, but the family has never been able to figure out quite what.

Tim always sensed that his family was different, the way they spent every weekend on the beach, no matter what the weather, for instance. But he never realized how far from center they really are until his father takes him aside a day after New Year's, when Tim has come of age and tells him that he can time travel. All he has to do is go into a private space, like a closet or bathroom in a pinch, scrunch his hands, concentrate hard to focus on where he wants to go and then voila, he'll travel back to that point. The father is pretty short on details. For instance, he doesn't tell Tim how to return (I guess you return the same way you came). He doesn't tell Tim how long he can stay in the past (although, I suppose it's indefinite). He doesn't detail any of the rules, which leaves room for some interesting plot developments, but seems rather insensitive when you think about it. It's fine to let your son make his own mistakes, but when consequences are high, a few pointers would not be remiss.

For one thing, since the father is a time traveler too and their circle is a very small one, it's strange that they don't have any fear about changing each other's pasts or erasing events that one of them found horrible, but the other actually cherished. Sculpting the past can be a very selfish endeavor. Tim and his dad are both kind and disciplined people who don't abuse their power. Even so, in a movie less loving, there would be real consequences to explore regarding the travel. Plus, there is at least one event that they'd both want to change. Since they don't consult with each other before traveling, how do they ensure that they both don't act to undo the same point in the past? It's a situation where two attempts to right the same thing could result in a terrible wrong. I applaud the movie for avoiding obvious plot devices, like false misunderstandings and romantic games which artificially keep lovers apart. The absence of such ploys is what makes the characters seem so genuine and welcoming. Yet, although some time traveling problems arise, the movie is still sometimes too simple and frictionless for its own good, given the premise.

The women in the family don't inherit the time travel gene and the men, for reasons unknown, have chosen to keep it secret from them.

Tim is, of course, skeptical but immediately puts his father's revelation to the test and find that the impossible is true. The family hosted a New Year's Eve party which unraveled for Tim when he chickened out and failed to kiss an expectant young woman on the stroke of midnight. Both of them were left humiliated by his omission. He time travels back to that point and not only rectifies his mistake, but knowing what will happen before hand, he is able to improve upon his own limitations and not only smooches her, but gives her a doozy of a kiss that leaves both of them pleased and impressed.

Despite this kiss, Tim remains romantically inexperienced and is immediately infatuated when Kit Kat brings a beautiful friend, Charlotte, home to stay with them for the summer. Tim pines for Charlotte for months and on her last day with them, he makes an advance. She tells him it's a shame he waited so late. It almost makes his stated feelings for her seem like an afterthought. If he'd revealed his interest earlier in the summer, they might have had a chance. Upon hearing this, Tim immediately goes back in the past and expresses his love (I'm not sure it can really be called that, he seems more attracted to her than in love, to me) to Charlotte earlier, at which point she tells him that he has spoken too soon. She says he should have waited until the last night of her visit and then maybe she would have returned his feelings. The last night? He questions. Yes, the last night, she confirms.

This tells me that Charlotte was leading him on and had no intention of dating him at any point during the summer. It seemed clear that she was not a nice person, but apparently (we learn later) Tim isn't left with that impression. He just thinks he struck out. I wonder why he didn't go back in time and ask her TWICE, once at the beginning of her vacation and once on the last day, to see how she would have shot him down then, but he doesn't try that.

The next thing we know, Tim is working as a lawyer. Since he was just 21, I'm not sure how he skipped law school altogether, but maybe things work differently in the United Kingdom. He rooms with a friend of his father's, a crazed (and slightly sadistic) playwright named Harry and is still hoping that love will find him.
One night he dines at one of those black-out restaurants (where the interior is completely dark and the diners can't see either their meal or the people around him) with his friend and they are seated next to, two women.

Tim and the unseen woman, Mary, click instantly and share jokes all evening. When dinner is over, Tim stands nervously outside waiting to see Mary emerge, hoping not only that she looks even 50% as good as she sounded, but that he won't be a turn off for her, with his flaming red hair. Both of their hopes are realized when they see each other and are equally pleased and shy. Mary gives Tim her number, entering it into his cell phone and he can hardly wait to call her.

When he arrives home that evening, Harry is enraged and practically suicidal. It was the opening night of the latest play he wrote and one of the actors forgot his lines, ruining the play and, with it, Harry's career. Tim quickly excuses himself, goes into a closet, re-enters the past and hurries to the theater where, minutes before show time, he tells an actor in the play to learn his lines. Now, if the actor didn't know them already, I'm not sure why a word from a stranger would prompt him to learn the lines. But after shooing Tim away indignantly, once Tim leaves the actor does review the script and is flawless. This is absurd, because actors usually go up out of nervousness and reviewing the script won't keep them from getting stage fright and freezing in front of an audience, but unbelievably, Tim's visit did the trick and the actor's performance was perfect. BUT his co-star's wasn't. Apparently, Tim didn't even bother to find out which actor flubbed his lines. So, he ends up going back in time again, having to make cue cards for the other actor and holding them in the wings. This time, both actors succeed and the play is a success.

The next morning, Harry is delighted about the rave reviews his creation has garnered and berates Tim for having missed most of the show (because, unbeknownst to Harry, Tim was backstage). Relieved, Tim has that out of the way and is ready to call Mary, but when he takes out his phone, her number is gone. The night he spent with her never happened. He erased it, to go into the past to help Harry.

Now, I think Mary > Harry and I would just go back in time, forget Harry and relive the night in the restaurant with Mary. But Tim takes the harder route. He recalls that Mary said she loved Kate Moss. There is an (unlikely) Kate Moss exhibit at the museum and Tim camps out at the museum for hours on end, waiting for Mary to show up there. How he got enough time off of work to do this, I'll never know.

After several days, Mary does come and he goes up to say hi, forgetting that they have never met before. The restaurant never happened. So, rather than responding to him with warmth, Mary thinks he's a weirdo. But he claims to be a fan of Kate Moss' and soon wins her over as she effusively discusses her idol with him and he feigns agreement. Now, I don't particularly like this artifice on his part. He charmed her on their real first meeting by being himself and now he's just pretending to share her interests, to lure her in. If she knew the time-traveling truth, I'm sure she'd resent this, but the ethical repercussions are never explored in the film and, in fairness, Tim is mostly earnest, manipulating the situation far less than I, for one, would. So, you tend to forgive him.

Tim and his new friend Mary are having lunch when he learns she has a boyfriend. When did that happen. He doesn't just wonder, but demands a precise answer, pressing Mary, her boyfriend, and her pal, Joanna, for the specific time, date and location of Mary's introduction to her new beau. They met at Joanna's party. Where was that party held? Now, why a puzzled Joanna would give this crazed man her home address is beyond me, but she does. He leaves immediately. Mary's boyfriend thinks Tim is strange, but she says she kind of liked him.

Tim travels back in time to Joanna's party and finds Mary on the patio, a wallflower. He immediately strikes up a conversation and whisks her off to dinner before her boyfriend-to-be can arrive. They pass the man on their way out and exchange brief words. What a jerk, Tim observes of the guy later. Mary agrees with him. So, I guess that's a sign. When she missed her destiny with Tim, she still thought he was a nice person after she began dating someone else. She saw his true essence, even though she barely knew him, suggesting they were true soul mates. But when Tim changed things so that she didn't meet the other boyfriend, when she crossed his path in the alternate life, she didn't have any positive feelings for him at all.

At dinner, Tim manipulates Mary even further, by repeating her own words (from the changed past) about Kate Moss back to her. She is bowled over by his insights, so uncannily like her own. He has said what she thinks, before she thought it! She asks him to walk her to her car, but it turns out her car is at her house, so he's actually being invited upstairs. She tells him she is going to slip into her new pajamas. He seemingly takes that news in stride, although it befuddles me. Then, she adds that she's putting them on and, in two minutes, he can come in and take them off, if he wants.

Since she only gave him her phone number during their real first date, I'm surprised that she's moving so fast, but he's thrilled. He starts to disrobe her and fumbles with the bra. She has to tell him that it opens in the front. They have sex and he apologetically informs her that it will be better next time. She demurs and says she thought it was pretty good this time. He thinks there is room for improvement, goes into the next room, goes into the past and starts at the pajamas again. This time, he unhooks the bra with ease. They have great sex, but he still thinks it can be better. Back into the past, this time he comes at her like a locomotive, practically undoing her bra with just a touch. The sex is so exciting they end up on the floor, minds blown.

It was the best night of his life and now he thinks he will get the best sleep of his life. Oh, does that mean he's only good for one time, Mary wants to know. Exhausted from three bouts of sex, to her one, Tim remarks that he thinks that is a little unfair of her.

We see them fall in love in a series of train partings. They go to the train station together and then separate for their separate routes, day after day after day. Their adoration as deep as it is domestic. They aren't running to each other across a crowded field. They're sharing days, both on the same page, becoming inextricable parts of the other. At the train station, they ride the escalator together. Once she kisses his shoulder, a peck so tenderly expressing everything that a tangle of two tongues could not. Once they get on the escalator holding hands, then pull back and talk to each other and then clasp hands again, unable to stay apart for too long. Their mutual need is normal, slow, natural, not the quick, desperate and fleeting variety.

They move in together. Mary introduces Tim to her parents on short notice. They show up at the door and she tells him he shouldn't say he lives there. He can admit they're having sex, but not oral sex. Why would that even come up, Tim asks incredulously. But once she's put it into his head, he can't take it out and he sputters to her father that they're definitely not having oral sex. He has to go into the past to change that debacle. But he's not the only nervous one. Mary rambles and then discloses that it's only because she loves Tim and wants her parents to love him too. This is the only time these two come close to saying they love each other during the film, but it's not something they have to put into words, so evident is it in their every easy gesture.

One night he says he has tickets to an opera. Does she want to go? It sounds boring and she'd rather stay at home nestled in bed. He should take someone else. He takes his friend Rory from work and they see Charlotte, the woman Tim remembers as his first love, though I beg to differ.

He's an awkward boy again and goes over to meet her. She's with a friend and thinking that they're a gay couple Tim gushes that he's so relieved, because it means that her disinterest wasn't because of his own shortcomings years ago. This is an unacceptable thing to say, even if Charlotte is gay. But she's not. Tim is mortified and goes back in time to fix that, only to make another gaffe. He does one more redo and then gives up, deciding not to talk to Charlotte at all. But she sees him and comes over to catch up. She walks away and I am relieved that he's not going to make the mistake of sleeping with "the one who got away" (more like "the one who never was and never should have been"), but not so fast! Charlotte changes her mind, ditches her friend, ditches Tim's friend and asks Tim to take her out to dinner. Since she's still as rude as she was during the summer spent at his home, I don't know why Tim is still enamored, but he is. I figure he'll sleep with her, regret it and go back in time to change events. A move that would not sit well with me. I keep waiting for the twinge of guilt to overcome him. Is he not going to remember his love for Mary until after the deed is done? I don't like where this is heading, especially when she invites him up to her apartment. Outside the door, she tells him it's even better inside and leans in for a kiss. He backs away, thank goodness, and says there is something he has to do.

He rushes home to Mary who is in bed. Get up, he has something to say to her. She says it's selfish of him to wake her, when she's feeling so comfy. She apparently likes a snuggly bed as much as I do. He realizes that this the wrong way to start a momentous event and goes back in time to begin again, waking her up more firmly, before trying to converse. She notices that he is on his knee, there's romantic music playing and a question he says cannot wait. She jokingly wonders what happened at the opera? Did he get so bored that he thought he'd come home and ask her to marry him? Yes, he says. In fact, that's exactly what happened. I like that he is realizing he was so bored with Charlotte that that's how he knew Mary was his future. It wasn't guilt that made him stop. It was his indifference to Charlotte, to anyone but Mary. Nice, but I wish he'd realized that indifference earlier. I know you never forget your first crush, but once real love comes along, crushes pale in comparison and I'd think he'd see that instantaneously, not after a few hours had gone by with Charlotte, platonic though they were.

He asks Mary to marry him. She pauses and I think they're too sure of each other for him to be really nervous, but he is a bit, yes, no? She says she thinks she'll say yes. I wonder if the mood is anti-climatic for her. Couldn't he have waited until she was fully up and alert? She says she is glad that he asked her when they were alone and didn't make a big public production of it. Upon hearing this, he slips out and quietly tells the musicians he'd hired to serenade her to leave.

She meets his parents. They announce the engagement and also the fact that she's already pregnant. It rains on their wedding day and Tim asks Mary if she would have chosen another day. No, she insists, she wouldn't change a thing. Whew! He's relieved he won't have to go back in time to change that, but he did go back to change his best man twice, after his first choices completely failed at the wedding toast. On the subject of toasts, his father also went back in time, regretting the fact that he did not say he loved Tim the first time. Love is implied, Tim says. He begs him not to change his words, but the father won't listen. In his alternate toast, he says that he's only loved three men, not his father, who was a rascal, but Uncle D, Tim and B. B. King, obviously. He says that nothing gives him greater pride than being Tim's father. These words move Tim and the audience and it's clear Tim prefers it to the original toast, which now no longer exists. Whether the results are good or bad, how does Tim, or his father, feel about having their past erased to suit someone else's whim? I'd mind. It's a discussion they never have.

Wedding vows undertaken "and so it begins" Mary says, reminding me of Henry and Claire finding each other in Time Traveler's Wife and making my heart break just a little. Of course, Rachel Adams was in the Time Traveler's Wife movie, for which I'll never forgive her, so life-changing was the book. But that's another story and this movie greatly redeems McAdams past horrors.

Mary and Tim move into a bigger place and have baby Posy. On Posy's first birthday, Kit Kat doesn't arrive for the party. She's become a depressed alcoholic and Tim discovers she's had a bad accident, when leaving her boyfriend after yet another argument. Tim decides to change the course of Kit Kat's entire life. It occurred to him to do this, when he realized he might lose her. He tells her his secret, takes her into the closet with him and together they travel back to that old New Year's Eve party, where he prevents her from meeting her deadbeat boyfriend and she begins dating his boyhood friend Jay instead. Back in the present, Jay and Kit Kat turn out to be happy people, happy together. Now, I think it's somewhat insulting to suggest that all Kit Kat needed to turn her life around was the right man. But he's satisfied with his retroactive results and leaving Kit Kat and Jay in bliss, heads home.

He walks into his kitchen to find the baby in the high chair is not Posy, but some kid he doesn't recognize. Now, since Posy was just a year old, he could start fresh with this new little stranger and never look back. But, to his credit, he wants his baby girl back. He has a talk with his dad who tells him that you can't go back in time after the birth of a child, because if you're a second off, then the same sperm won't combine with the egg and you'll have a different baby. Why hadn't he mentioned this earlier? Also, why didn't the old man go back in time to save Kit Kat after the accident. Why did Tim have to do it? Why didn't Tim chat up his dad, first, just to verify that Dad had no intention of trying to undo the accident as well. Great minds think alike, don't they, especially when they're in the same family and both, presumably, love Kit Kat.

So, to get Posy back, Tim reverses his trip back in time with Kit Kat and instead just gives her a stern lecture at her hospital bed. Since she wasn't dying anyway, I don't know why he took it upon himself to change her whole life trajectory in the first place. How can she learn from her mistakes, if he doesn't let her have any? The trip back was a mistake for reasons having nothing to do with Posy. All Tim and Mary have to do is tell Kit Kat to think about her life -- which they should have done before the accident and she decides to give up her boyfriend and stop drinking pretty quickly. Then, Tim suggests she date Jay. She'd never thought about it before, but is keen to give it a go. She and Jay click and her life reverses course, because of the accident, not because Tim makes it unhappen.

Tim asks Mary to have another baby. They do. They are at home and she is changing her dress for the umpteenth time so they can attend a work affair of hers, when the phone rings with bad news. They go to his parents' and learn his father is dying of cancer. He only has a few weeks to live. The father reveals that when he learned this, he went back in time and retired at 50 so he could spend Tim's childhood at home with him.

At the father's funeral, Tim slips away, into the past, to spend a few moments with his father in the study. Their time together gives him the strength he needs to get through the rest of that painful day.

Sobered by their immortality, Mary asks Tim to have another baby. He is reluctant. He realizes that once the baby is here, he can no longer visit his father in the past or else it will change the baby. He doesn't want to let go of the past in order to pursue their future. But Mary presses and he's not used to refusing her anything. When she asks to try to conceive right now (which I think is unreasonable of her, since they're both still young and their 2 kids are still toddlers) he agrees.

Apparently, during her pregnancy he keeps time traveling and probably changes the identity of the fetus many times. But when Mary is in her ninth month, he realizes that time is short. He goes back into the past and enters his parents' rec room. He and his father play ping pong and what is the winner's prize going to be? A kiss Tim says. A KISS, the unmushy Dad exclaims and then realizes ... so this is it? Yes, Tim says. There is a baby on the way any minute. This is their last time together. Oh, this is the built in heartbreak of all time travel story and it never fails to melt me, whether it's Time Traveler's Wife or Doctor Who. The first meeting is as beautiful as the last is devastating. Tim's father says that they should break the rules just one time to go for a run on the beach. They time travel together back decades ago when Tim was just a little boy, running by his father's side.

Then, it's over. The third baby is born. Tim says that his father gave him a tip: live every day twice. Go through it the first time, trial and tribulations. Then, go through it a second time and find the good moments in each day, the ones you glossed over during the first run through. Savor the wins and the rain and see the silver lining that eluded you in round one. Tim does this and finds that his father was right, even the dismal days held transcendent moments, when he just knew where to find them.

So, he lives each day twice for awhile, but then he takes off the training wheels and says he never time travels anymore. He doesn't have to. Now, he has just learned to live each day with joy the first time, without the need for a do-over. It's a philosophy to which even us non-time travelers should aspire. Just relish each moment, then you won't have to relive it, but that's a facile motto really. There are some irrevocably bad days that even Pollyanna couldn't salvage and I know that if Mary or one of the kids died, Tim would time travel again, no matter what his resolve.

Still, you can't begrudge him his last sunshining message. This movie has earned its goodwill by being funny, original and realistic, despite its fantasy premise. It gave us likable characters who were defined and well-acted. They created a world I wanted to live in. By keeping the emotions understated and, largely, unspoken, it's given us all of the love, but none of the schmaltz. It uses the supernatural to bring us closer to what's concrete. Magic is just a metaphor for life and, as Kit Kat's accident established, there are many ways to start over again, without the help of time travel.