“About Time” for a Rom-Com about the Love Between Father and Son
*Warning – Spoiler Alerts for anyone who’s not seen “About Time”
Settling in on the couch for some Netflix and chill, any smart man knows the crucial lesson; let the better half decide what to watch. Trust me. And anyway, there’s only so many times a woman will sit through BMX Bandits re-runs again and again…Where’s the justice? Nowhere!
Ok, so, back to the couch and the better half’s scrolling landed on a movie poster with a smiling Rachel McAdams next to a suitably awkward yet adorable redhead, laughing in the pouring rain. Yeah, rightoh. May as well. “About Time.” And the screenwriter/director is no slouch, arguably the best in the Rom-Com business, Richard Curtis. Credits to his name such as Love Actually, Notting Hill, Four Weddings and a Funeral. Rest easy, we’re in safe hands, let the laughs, tears and romance fly.
And “About Time” does, for the most part, fool you into believing this is a story about a young man who is desperate for love, to find the girl of his dreams and indulge in the happily ever after. Nothing wrong with that. But what slowly becomes apparent is the true love story unfolding here, the one whose ending will ultimately punch you in the guts and have you bawling your eyes out, is between the hero of the story, yes, the suitably awkward yet adorable redhead, and his father, the one and only Bill Nighy.
You see, on the redhead’s 21st birthday his father tells him of a family secret. The men in their family have a unique gift. They can travel back in time, to any moment in their life. All they need do is find a quiet place on their own, clench their fists, close their eyes and think back to whatever time they want to travel to and, whooshka, they’re there. And let me make this clear, any true blue, sci-fi nerd will probably endure an aneurysm while having to forego their narrative logic instincts and allow this story to blossom in spite of all the glaring sci-fi logic problems. It’s fascinating though, because of the endearing nature of all the characters, that logical part of your brain sort of shuts up, let’s your heartstrings maintain your necessary suspension of disbelief.
Not only does this time travel gift allow our redhead hero to iron out all his instinctive kinks with the ladies and manage to find true love with Rachel McAdams, the fact that he shares this gift with his father means that the son is often seeking his dad’s advice on how best to harness this gift and make sure he can use it to live the best possible life he can. There is a Father-Son bond created and developed through the gift itself. But as the son finds love, starts a family, a limiting factor to the gift of time travel emerges. You can’t travel back in time to a moment before your children were born without risking cataclysmic consequences, ones that risk the lives of those very children, and their ability to come into existence in the first place.
Again, any sci-fi nerds can rightly point out all sorts of other completely spot on side arguments as to all manner of meta-physical aspects of stupidity such a plotline should entail. They’re right! But stuff ‘em!! The reason the writer has focused purely on this limiting factor as to the birth of children meaning you can’t go too far back in time is when Bill Nighy is diagnosed with terminal cancer at the same time as the redhead and Rachel McAdams are soon to have their third child. Bill Nighy passes away all too quickly, but the redhead is able to simply close his eyes, clench his fists and go back to a point in time only months earlier, play a game of ping pong with the old man and talk the smack that only father and son can talk.
But, on the night before his third child is to be born, our redhead must make his last visit to his dad, one last game of ping pong, knowing he’ll never see him again, that no matter how great this gift of time travel might be, all he really wants is for he and his dad to be together, forever. And the family he now has to take care of means he can never see his own dad again. And there, as he wishes his dad goodbye, he asks if there’s anything he can do, anything for his dad. And Bill Nighy being Bill Nighy says rather cheekily, “it’s against all the rules, but if we’re very careful I think we can get away with it and not upset anything, but I’d like to take you for a walk son, one last time.”
And as stupid as it is, utterly ridiculous, as you watch the pair close their eyes and clench their fists and travel back in time, you can’t help but cry like a baby in the very next blink when a 20year younger Bill Nighy is holding hands with his 20 year younger redhead son, racing down together to skim stones on a Cornish beach and play in the afternoon sun, the way they did every day once upon a time in the days dreams are made of, so long ago.
Watch the scene here:
Richard Curtis will likely never win any sci-fi awards for this, but for anyone who can embrace the pure love and joy at the heart of “About Time,” this movie is sort of like having a big, warm hug, a hug you really don’t want to let go of. You can’t help but feel incredibly moved by the experience. And for many of us whose dads are long since gone, there’s something so incredible about a rom-com that showcases this father-son relationship, a love affair for sure if you’re lucky as I have been.
And utilising a beautifully ludicrous time travel premise to recapture the wonder of being a kid, knowing that your dad is your absolute hero, and that you’re his total pride and joy too. Those moments together were priceless, and over all too soon. And, no matter how much you love your own Dad, Bill Nighy is the most capable surrogate imaginable, 100%
A rom-com where the lads cry more than the ladies. Fair enough. About bloody time! Can’t get much more progressive than that hey. Well done, Richard Curtis, well done sir.
*Liam Carroll is the author of Slippery, a story about capitalism on steroids in the oil trading world of Southeast Asia. His second novel, Sweet Dreams of Fanta, is a sentimental ride back to the Sydney of 1988, seen through the eyes of a freckly, moon-faced, 7year old Fanta addict. And his third book, Hooroo Love, in the works now.