The romantic comedy-drama "About Time" is the most delightful wish-fulfillment fantasy any young man could imagine: What if you could go back and fix your romantic mistakes with a cosmic do-over?
That's the possibility presented to Tim (played by Domhnall Gleeson), who on his 21st birthday is told the family secret by his father (Bill Nighy). The men of Tim's family, Dad tells him, have the power of time travel. Just think about the moment, close your eyes, ball up your fists and you're there.
Nonsense, says Tim. That is, until he tries it and discovers it's true.
Tim decides a superpower this big must be used for a greater purpose. Namely, getting himself a girlfriend.
When Tim meets Mary (Rachel McAdams), they hit it off so well that time travel isn't necessary. But then Tim goes back in time to help his landlord, Harry (Tom Hollander), a morose playwright, on the opening night of his new play and, in the process, erases his perfect first date with Mary. So he has to find Mary all over again, and it takes a few attempts and re-attempts to make it all work.
Writer-director Richard Curtis continues in this vein, rather like a British variation on "Groundhog Day," as Tim learns the advantages and pitfalls of time travel. One thing Tim learns is that he can't make everything perfect. This is especially true concerning his free-spirited but romantically abused sister Kit Kat, played by Lydia Wilson in a touching refutation of the "manic pixie dream girl" phenomenon that has bedeviled the last generation of romantic comedies.
But, then, "About Time" is only partly a romantic comedy in the standard boy-meets-girl mode. It's also a celebration of the durability of relationships, as Tim and Mary progress through the million little details of courtship, marriage and parenthood. And, just as important, it's about the father-son bond between Tim and his dad, who use their gift to carve out spare time to spend together.
"About Time" feels like a culmination for Curtis, a summing-up of the romantic ideas that he's presented in past films. He creates a sweet ensemble of family and friends, as he did writing "Notting Hill" and "Four Weddings and a Funeral," and only briefly succumbs to the speechifying that weighed down his directorial debut, "Love Actually."
What buoys "About Time" is the wonderful cast. Gleeson, best known as Bill Weasley in the "Harry Potter" series, ambles nicely from gawky 20-something to mature adult. He also has great chemistry with McAdams, whose shy beauty and good humor make Mary perfectly adorable.
Of course, anyone who's a fan of Curtis alumnus Bill Nighy (and if you aren't, why not?) will thrill that the director gives us a full dose of the actor's effortless wit and serene grace.
"About Time" winds up being the perfect romantic comedy, because Curtis tries and succeeds at making it so much more than a romantic comedy. If he had to go back and do it again, I wouldn't have him change a thing.
The writer-director of "Love Actually" devises a lovely tale of romance and time travel.
Where • Area theaters.
When • Opens Friday, Nov. 8.
Rating • R for language and some sexual content.
Running time • 123 minutes.