[A member of this year's NYFF Critics Academy, Graham Winfrey caught Richard Curtis' About Time at the New York Film Festival last month. The film, about a 21 year-old who uses his ability of time travel to pursue a girlfriend, is now in theaters. Winfrey takes a look at the film and its link to love via the relationship of an older couple in Roger Michell's Le Week-End, which will open in the U.S. early next year.]
Richard Curtis' About Time.
Romantic comedy fans remember 1999’s Notting Hill for its charmingly improbable love story between an American actress played by Julia Roberts and a British bookstore owner played by Hugh Grant. Nearly 15 years later, screenwriter/director Richard Curtis and director Roger Michell are still at it, each having recently directed films that screened during the 51st New York Film Festival.
Curtis’ About Time, now out in theaters, explores different territory than his first two directorial efforts Love Actually and Pirate Radio by taking on the supernatural in a story about time travel. Le Week-End, on the other hand, is a more grounded tale than Michell’s last two films Morning Glory and Hyde Park on Hudson that follows a middle-aged couple during a weekend visit to Paris. Despite their differences, both films look at romance through the prism of time to uncover some of the bittersweet truths that come with love and marriage.
About Time’s Tim (Domhnall Gleeson) is a hopeless romantic who learns on his 21st birthday that his father (Bill Nighy) and all the men in his family going back generations were born with the ability to travel in time, albeit with the tiny restriction that they can only relive previous moments from their own life. This realization gives Tim a second go – and sometimes a third or fourth – at a number of tricky situations with girls, the most profound of which involve the courtship of his future wife Mary (Rachel McAdams).
Not since Groundhog Day has a film exploited this premise to such great comedic effect. Curtis stretches the time travel conceit to its limits without ever going too far, reigning Tim in every time his secret power leads to a sense of infallibility. The result is not the story of a young man constantly deceiving everyone around him but instead a journey into enlightenment wherein Tim learns that he cannot fix every problem or save every person. “All the time travel in the world can’t make someone love you,” he says.
Roger Michell's Le Week-End.
Though Tim’s love for his wife Mary is reciprocated and their marriage is by all measures a happy union, About Time doesn’t shy away from the pain that comes with the passage of time, such as having to say good bye to a parent. One of the effects of the film breezing through multiple years of Tim’s adulthood is reminding the audience of how short life is.
Le Week-End, meanwhile, takes place during the course of just a few days, but by the end of the film, we feel as if we’ve known the married couple at its center for years. Though constantly bickering, Nick (Jim Broadbent) and Meg (Lindsay Duncan) still have passion in their relationship after decades of marriage. At times during their anniversary trip to Paris, however, the thing they seem most passionate about is their contempt for each other. If nothing else, the film reveals just how long a marriage can be a work in progress. “You make my blood boil more than anyone else,” Meg says. “The sign of a deep connection,” Nick replies.
Le Week-End is in many ways a romantic comedy laced with despair. While Nick and Meg bask in the beauty of Paris and find moments to rekindle their romance, they’re constantly being confronted with the limitations of their age as they struggle to climb the city’s many stairways. One of the most somber aspects of the film is each character’s lack of fulfillment so late in life. “I’m amazed by how mediocre I’ve turned out to be,” Nick says. Similarly, Meg despairs that she still hopes to learn how to speak Italian, play the piano and dance the Tango. “I want a new start,” she says. Just when we think that Nick and Meg run the risk of boring each other to death, a chance encounter with an old friend (Jeff Goldblum) reveals that they still have the ability to surprise one another.
While About Time and Le Week-End explore the relationship between time and romance in very different ways, both films suggest that living life to the fullest with the person you love is the only way to stay young at heart. The secret formula for happiness, Curtis and Michell argue, is realizing that you only live once.