Movie reviews: About Time

Richard Curtis — the writer of Four Weddings and a Funeral, Notting Hill and Love, Actually — is best known for his offbeat romantic comedies, but About Time (12A), which he also directs, is probably his quirkiest yet.

On turning 21, Tim (Domhnall Gleeson) is informed by his father (Bill Nighy) that the men in their family can time travel. It’s a strange but useful inheritance, especially when Tim meets Mary (Rachel McAdams) and falls head-over-heels in love, only to lose her again by travelling back in time to help a desperate friend, thus changing his potential future. In the normal run of a Curtis story, Tim and Mary would spend the rest of the movie desperately trying to get back together, but About Time isn’t the romantic comedy the posters suggest it might be. Tim and Mary’s trials and tribulations get their due, certainly, but the emotional core of the story is rooted in a poignant and heartfelt account of Tim’s relationship with his father. Nighy is in excellent form as the apparently feckless dad, a man who appears to drift through life happy to form no more stronger bond with his son than that of a regular table-tennis partner. Gleeson, for his part, seems to have been shoehorned into a role written specifically for Hugh Grant, but he carries off the excessive foppishness with no little style, his winning smile and angular, awkward physical presence giving his character’s social shortcomings an endearing quality of vulnerability. Nighy and Gleeson work well together, and combine to create a satisfying climax to their particular story, but Curtis’s desire to bring too many narrative strands to fruition means that the overall emotional impact is diluted.

Ain’t Them Bodies Saints (15A) opens with Ruth (Rooney Mara) wounding a police officer, Patrick (Ben Foster), during a shoot-out. When the dust settles, Ruth’s boyfriend, Bob (Casey Affleck), takes the rap for the pregnant Ruth, but not before swearing to escape from prison and come back for Ruth and their baby. When Bob finally manages to escape three years later, the authorities close in on Ruth and her daughter Sylvie — but by then Ruth has already established a tentative relationship with police officer Patrick, who remains blissfully unaware that it was Ruth who shot him. A complex, nuanced tale of betrayal, guilt and doing the right thing, David Lowery’s film unfolds in long, intense, emotionally charged scenes. The Texas backdrop has a dreamy, or nightmarish, quality, which gives the crime story a fairytale aspect, as the hard-bitten outlaw and the shining knight compete for the affections of the sleeping beauty whose life has been put on hold while she devotes herself to her child. There’s something heartbreaking about Affleck’s performance, perhaps because the lovestruck but childlike Bob is entirely unaware that Ruth might for even one second consider betraying his trust; meanwhile, Foster’s portrayal of the Texas cop as a diffident, shy paramour stands in stark contrast to Bob’s self-confident swagger, and is all the more effective for it. Mara provides the film with its moral heart, playing a young woman who learns that, with a child to care for, her life is no longer her own to squander. It’s a powerful, thought-provoking tragedy, one worthy of comparison with Nicholas Ray’s 1948 noir classic, They Live by Night.

Set in California in the late 1970s, Any Day Now (15A) stars Alan Cumming as Rudy Donatello, a flamboyant drag queen. When his neighbour is arrested, Rudy takes in her neglected son, Marco (Isaac Leyva), a teenage boy with Down’s syndrome. When the authorities attempt to take Marco away to a foster home, Rudy appeals to his new lover, lawyer Paul Fliger (Garreth Dillahunt), for help. The pair secure temporary custody for Marco, and set up home together to provide the boy with a loving environment, but their idyllic arrangement flouts the era’s societal norms. Based on a true event, Travis Fine’s film is by turns a heartwarming story of the kindness of strangers and an anguished account of institutionalised homophobia and neglect. Cumming is the film’s heartbeat with his portrayal of the irrepressible Rudy, but he gets very strong support from Dillahunt as the dependable, stolid Paul, while Leyva steals every scene he’s in. You may need to bring an extra tissue or three.

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