Rachel McAdams knows a thing or two about love… and time travel. The charismatic actor has starred in many romantic films, but can any of his other contemporaries also say he played a time traveler’s wife twice?
McAdams has more than proven herself to be a versatile actress throughout her career. And it’s quite evident in her two very different performances as a time traveler’s wife. In the 2009 sci-fi romance, The Time Traveler’s Wifeshe explored the fears, frustration, and unconditional love that comes with having a soul mate who can’t control where and where she falls in time.
Four years later, McAdams took a much lighter spin on the role, playing an effortlessly romantic lead opposite Domhnall Gleeson’s bumbling time traveler in About time. Richard Curtis’ 2013 romantic drama, now streaming on Netflix, is a heartwarming drama with a sci-fi twist that unravels big ideas about our relationship with time.
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About time opens with a New Year’s Eve party, which marks a turning point in Tim Lake’s life. Tim (Domhnall Gleeson) dreads this party every year as he clumsily weaves his way through the crowds and misses his New Year’s kiss. But the next day, his dad, James (Bill Nighy), sits Tim down to tell him something “scary”, as he calls it. The males in their family have inherited the ability to time travel to any moment they have experienced before. This means that Tim can also time travel.
To Tim’s surprise, he attempts to relive the previous night’s party, and to his success, he is finally able to get his kiss. He returns to James to tell him more about time travel. The rules are quite simple (maybe too much simple if you think about it too much). Any changes they make in the past will affect their future, but James is rather flippant about it, encouraging Tim to explore the ability on his own.
While James warns his son against using time travel to get rich, he doesn’t quite stop Tim from using it for love.
So that’s what Tim does. First, the young man spends the summer trying to woo Charlotte (Margot Robbie) and quickly learns that manipulating the weather doesn’t mean you can change someone’s feelings. But Tim moves from this rejection to a new city, London, where he meets Mary (Rachel McAdams).
The first time Tim meets Mary, they hit it off, but he’s forced to erase that encounter by time-traveling to help a friend. When he manages to find her, he learns that she has somehow acquired a boyfriend. So Tim finds out exactly how Mary and her new boyfriend met, then travels back in time and meets her for the first time, taking her away from a house party just as the soon-to-be boyfriend arrives.
Tim’s plan works, and before we know it, the two are falling in love, getting married, and starting a family.
All the while, Tim uses his ability to perfect his life in small ways. It usually goes off without a hitch, until the birth of her daughter unexpectedly changes the rules. It turns out that if he travels to a time before he was conceived and changes the past, he might end up with a totally different child – or none at all.
It’s here that About time gets really interesting.
About time may seem like an average romantic drama with a sci-fi twist, but it raises some thoughtful questions about how we view time. Namely, are you the type to dwell on the past, worry about the future, or live in the present? Tim spends so much time rewriting the past that when he’s forced to think about the future, he’s often lost.
The stakes are low for most of the film, with Tim relying on time travel to solve nearly all of his dilemmas (he never even considers using his power to save lives or make the world a better place). Even her romance with Mary is going well, as she’s clearly been in love with Tim from the start. But once Tim has a family, his ability finally gets stakes. Tim learns these lessons the hard way, and the disheartening consequences of time travel leave him with difficult decisions to make as his family’s lives change in sometimes depressing ways.
The challenges Tim faces seem quite relatable, thanks in part to Gleeson’s affable charm and easygoing chemistry he shares with McAdams. In a film primarily focused on the character of Gleeson, McAdams is equally captivating. With Bill Nighy, the two actors make About time a pleasure to watch even in its most emotional moments.
The rules of time travel may be flimsy, but since when must love and logic merge? In this direction, About time doesn’t push the boundaries of sci-fi, but it does show how sci-fi can effectively heighten drama in wonderful ways. And sometimes that’s more than enough.
About time is now streaming on Netflix.