This story is about romantic love, but it’s also about familial love: between brother and sister, son and mother, father and son. It’s about the love between friends; about love in all its depths of ordinary life.
About Time | 09
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This is The Good List — I’m Tsh Oxenreider.
This is a work of art.
About a year ago I learned of a word that describes, I think, one of my favorite genres of art. I hadn’t heard of it before, and in fact, the article where I learned it from admitted it’s a new term. The word is “transrealism,” and it’s a genre that mixes the fantastic elements used in science fiction with the descriptions of naturalistic realism. Basically, it’s the idea of having science fiction enmeshed in reality — instead of pure, solid fantasy, where you exit real life and you’re fully in, I don’t know, Middle Earth, you’re in our real world, but there’s a bit of stuff for which you have to suspend belief. So, think Dark Matter, by Blake Crouch, or 11/22/63 by Stephen King, or The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead, or The Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger. A case could even be potentially made for Harry Potter, though that definitely does lean more fantasy…
Anyway, when I learned about this genre, it all made sense — I love this sort of writing and storytelling. It’s enough of reality to feel familiar and at home (even if I’ve never been in Dallas in 1963), but it’s got enough magic to help point to the beauty of the ordinary magic in our real life. The Guardian said in 2014 that transrealism might be the first major literary movement of the 21st century. Other people argue it’s been around a long time; that “transrealism” is just a take on fantasy that’s been around forever. Whatever, I don’t care, none of that matters.
But ever since I heard that term, I’ve noticed that I tend to like transrealistic stories, for whatever reason. Based on my personal current experience, they’re also really hard to write. But my point in bringing this up is that there’s a film that released in 2013 without much fanfare that falls in this category, and it’s also a dramedy (that’s dramatic comedy). And it’s so very, very, very good, and understated, and not nearly as many people who should know about it know about it. And it’s why it’s the work of art in this week’s episode, because I want you to know about it, too.
It’s called About Time, and it stars Domnhall Gleeson, Rachel McAdams, Bill Nighy, and a few others, and it’s directed by Richard Curtis, who also did Love Actually, but I think this is honestly so much better. I’m not sure why it didn’t get quite the fanfare and high praise when it released that it deserves, but nonetheless, it’s available for streaming right now on Netflix, so we are all in luck. In fact, to get ready for this episode I watched it for the third time, and I’m pretty sure I cried even harder than either two of those other watches. It’s just everything I want in a movie. And no, it’s not perfect. But it’s great.
I’ll tell you more about it, and why I love it so much, and why you should watch it as soon as you can, right after this short break. I’ll be right back.
Okay, I’m back. Why do I think About Time is great? It’s not because it won any awards, it’s got only a 69% rating on Rotten Tomatoes, it’s rated R for a wee bit of language and sex, and it’s not really gonna blow your mind with stuff you’ve never thought about before. In fact, that’s kinda why I like it so much — because it explores every day, ordinary life so well. The 10-peso premise is that Tim, played by Domnhall Gleeson, is this guy who, when he’s 21, discovers he can travel in time. His dad, played by Bill Nighy, tells him that the men in their family have always had the ability to travel through time — only backwards, and only within their own life. So, no going to stop Hitler, and no going to the future to see what happens. But this gift does give Tim the ability to make his life better in small ways, like when he meets a beautiful girl and he wants it to go just-right, or when he finds ways to make work disasters nonexistent for his friends. As time goes on, he faces the reality that this sci-fi gift can’t save him from life’s ordinariness nor its hard stuff, and that even with the ability to re-live his life as much as he wants, there are limits to the happiness it provides. Ultimately, this is a story about how going back in time wouldn’t make life any less beautiful — and that it really is best when we can just relish in the everyday stuff that makes it great. (You know, which is kinda the entire point of this entire podcast.)
My description here isn’t really doing it justice, but I don’t want to give away too many spoilers. So, here’s a quick rundown of why I like this film so much, and then I want to skootch you off to go watch it.
The characters are fantastic. I adore all the actors in this film, and I love the characters they play: Tim and Mary are delightful humans; they feel like people you’d want to be friends with. Tim’s parents, especially his dad, are wonderful human beings, and by the end of the film I guarantee you’ll want Bill Nighy to be your dad, too. I love how this film portrays their love for each other, which I’ll talk about more in just a second. But this movie, even with its premise of time travel, is mostly character-driven, which is not common in a movie with time travel. I nerd out over slow-burn character movies with good dialogue and this is one of those.
I also love comedies with heart. Maybe it’s just me getting pickier and pickier, but I feel like it’s hard to find comedies that go deeper than the surface these days. About Time is both funny and it’ll make you cry at the end (if you’re me), and that’s one of my favorite emotions — laughter through tears, like Truvy says.
It’s very British, which I’m always here for. My British listeners, you’re probably rolling your eyes at this, but truly, I do love British humor and storytelling more than just about anything else in the world. Rachel McAdams plays an American, thankfully; they didn’t ask her to play a Brit (or maybe they did, and she couldn’t pull it off), but otherwise, everyone is so very British, in a good way. It’s hard to describe what I mean, but when you watch it, you’ll know what I mean.
The setting and music is gorgeous, and I always love it when a movie adds that extra depth. A good bit of the movie is set in Cornwall, which is a beautiful part of the coastal region of England, and the soundtrack is great — one of its main songs, The Luckiest by Ben Folds, was a song in Kyle’s and my wedding. Once again, here for this.
And finally, I just love, love, love that this film explores love in all its shapes and sizes. It’s about romantic love, but it’s also about familial love: between brother and sister, son and mother, and most poignantly about father and son. It’s about love between friends, and the love you feel for a child when you become a parent for the first time. I really appreciate movies that are about more than one thing, and it’s hard to find that in a romantic dramedy. This is about love in all its depths of ordinary life, and it’s beautiful.
Now, is this film perfect? No. There are some holes, as is normally the case when a story involves time travel. There’s a few parts when the pacing is a bit off. There’s a few bits about characters that show up at times here and there and then never again, and there are aspects of the story I wanted them to explore more and cut parts that went on too long. So, not a perfect film. But it’s a fantastic one. It’s so very lovely. And I want more people to know about it.
So that’s why About Time makes my Good List — because I want you to go watch it. And I especially want you to notice some of what Tim says near the end, about the advice given to him by his dad, about what makes a life meaningful. How he tells him to use his gift well, and then what he says near the end, will hopefully you make you look around as soon as the credits roll, and fall in love all over again with your perfectly imperfect, ordinary life, and maybe not take things so seriously. This is what happened to me, anyway.
I’ve purposely released this episode now, both because it’s been on Netflix for a while, and you never know when a streaming service will just take something away, so I’d hate you to miss your window, and also because if you’re listening to this as it goes live, it’s right around Valentine’s Day. I’m not very big into V-Day, for a host of reasons, but I also don’t roll my eyes and think you’re a bad person if you do. If you’re into it, good for you — you do you. But if you’re looking for something sweet-yet-affordable to do on Valentine’s Day, or let’s be honest, on any date where you’d rather wear pajamas and curl up on the couch, I highly recommend watching About Time. It’s one of my favorite imperfect movies, and maybe you’ll like it, too.
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Thanks so much to Mary for sharing her current idea that’s making her Good List. Music for the show is by Kevin MacLeod, and thanks, as always, to Caroline TeSelle for her help, as well as my furry intern, Ginny. I’m Tsh Oxenreider — thanks for listening to The Good List.