Love is all about context. If someone likes you back, it’s perfectly acceptable to have vetted them on FB first or Googled the fuck out of them to find out if they have any prior arrests or questionable old girlfriends or politically incorrect opinions. Of course, if they DON’T like you back (god fucking forbid, you’re a hottie!) then all of the above become kind of creepy-stalker-y in a non-endearing way. I’ve done it all, btw, so no judgement whatsoever. Love makes us do cray cray things. And if it doesn’t, you’re legitimately made of STONE :'(
About Time is such a great sell for this very reason: if you could alter the chances you had with the people you’re cuckoo for, wouldn’t you? I mean, if the Terminator gets his shot at true love (erm) then why shouldn’t Hugh Grant. Sorry, I mean, like, the new Hugh Grant. But this character was blates written for Hugh Grant, amirite? So bumbling, it’s ridic.
Back To The Future has taught us many things, and the lessons keep on coming: hipsters get super angry if you change their plans at the last minute, for instance. But also, if you meddle with the past, there are repercussions. Sure, you can do good, but for every good thing you do, a bad thing could well happen in its place. Plus, you might end up in a really weird situation whereby you have to ensure your parents fuck otherwise you won’t be born. If that’s not an argument against time machines, I don’t know what is.
It’s not that About Time doesn’t moralise. The problem is that its moral centre is so skewed, it’s preaching an offshoot of a religion that was shaky to begin with (water into wine, sure, wait as I turn these cookies into gold). Rom-coms certainly have their own, often questionable, moral compass. But none has made me feel so physically sick, previously. And I also kind of enjoyed it! No hate here people, or, no more hate than usual, anyway.
Our protagonist, a dappy yet handsome young man, finds out on his 18th birthday that he can time travel. Only the men in the family are capable of this talent, and shhhhhh, don’t tell the women. They don’t know and they don’t need to! Let’s not worry their pretty little heads. Dappy thinks this knowledge is his kooky father’s version of a practical joke (oh, Bill Nighy, there’s something so sexy and wrong about you), but to disprove it, he follows through with instructions: go to a dark place (wardrobe maybes), scrunch your fists and think of somewhere in your own past you want to go to. Dappy chooses last night, which happened to be New Year’s Eve, where he failed to kiss anyone at midnight. He rectifies this grievous error and tongues a poor damsel who is totes grateful that Dappy would deign to touch her. She thanks him profusely (I’m serious), and out of this, Dappy’s purpose in life is born: to use time travel to manipulate women! *Ahem* I mean, for reasons of LOVE! To find love at any cost! ANY COST <3
This is wish fulfilment in the nth degree. When he fucks up rubbing sun cream into a hot woman’s back, have no fear! He can go back in time 5 minutes and do it all again, way way way better the next time. Who wouldn’t want a do-over on their simplest mistakes? Especially if it preserved the image we have of ourselves, the way we hope others will see us. In Dappy’s case, he’s aiming at James Bond, when the reality is, well, Hugh Grant in the nineties (minus the hookers).
Unfortunately, no amount of time travel can convince Dappy’s first love, a friend of his sister who stays with them one summer, to love him back. Which is meant to make you think that time travel regardless, we’re all slaves to fate, and no amount of coercing can change certain inalienable facts. Whatever you do, though, don’t believe this bullshit for a second. Richard Curtis certainly doesn’t. Do not be lulled into a false sense of security, into thinking that time travel is not and will not be used abusively.
Dappy meets what he decides is his true love in one of those dining in the dark experiences. She has the same name as his mum, an American accent, and a super cute fringe. Plus she reads books for a living. She is the romantic ideal. And she’s Rachel McAdams. HELLO! However, he has to sacrifice the perfection of meeting her to help a friend out (Dappy is easily manipulated by guilt, another ploy, I presume, to detract from the fact he’s a bit of a creepo). Only able to be in one place at once (alternate timelines be damned!) he saves a friend’s theatre performance from inevitable disaster, thus not actually meeting his true love. I’m not going to dwell on whether he could’ve maybe found a way of using his secret time travel ability to both help his friend and meet this lady, but he obviously felt that was not possible. He’d rather stalk her anyway. Go figure.
Remembering that she’s a big fan of Kate Moss, he hangs around an art gallery which has an exhibit of her photos, for hours, in the hope she’ll turn up. His sister waits with him, so it’s a family affair, and not an inappropriate stalker stakeout. Rachel McAdams miraculously does show up, and he orchestrates the worst meet cute of all time. Kudos to the writer here, it’s a horrifically awkward scene in which Dappy’s time travel is shown for what it is: a super creepy background check of a moment. His meet cute plan backfires: McAdams has a boyfriend, who she met a week ago but is clearly so in love with there will never be any hope for Dappy. He finds out where they met and goes back in time to stop that travesty happening! Because she’s meant to be with him, yo!
Dappy turns up unannounced at the party McAdams is meant to meet the other love of her life. He uses information about her he’s gleaned from previous meetings she doesn’t know they’ve had, and pretends to like Kate Moss as much as she does so that she’s instantly won over. Who wouldn’t be by a man speaking your thoughts to you before you realise you’ve even said them?
Up to this point, I was feeling jovial about the whole thing. I get it. He likes her. He just needs an in, okay? When I was younger I totally pretended to like films I didn’t really in order to try and get into people’s pants. You know what though? It never really worked, and it meant I was an inauthentic doormat for way too long. It’s always better to just fess up to all the embarrassing shit you like and for everyone else to deal with it. I love Jessica Simpson films and I couldn’t give a shit if you disagree with me (#nofucksgiven). We’re just not meant to be if you can’t get on board.
Dappy gets an invitation up to McAdams’ flat. It’s awkward: he falls over a pair of her shoes, and can’t undo the clasp of her bra. They have sex and afterwards he says, “It’ll be better next time.” Which is in no way, shape or form what anyone wants to hear after sex. Even if you think it. So what does Dappy do? You knows it! He frickin’ goes back in time, doesn’t he! What a brilliant, brilliant idea.
And this is where I became really, really uncomfortable. Sure, I get it, this is a character merely taking advantage of his skills and making the most of life. But my problem is this: Rachel McAdams consented to having sex with this guy, but he gets to choose how many times it happens, remembering each and every, yet she only remembers one of those times, as selected by him? He gets to edit her memory of an experience or erase her remembrance of it altogether, yet himself retains all. Which is surely a separate, very specific, issue of consent. The character basically manipulates the chosen love of his life, fucking her until he’s sufficiently pleased it went well, and she’s none the wiser. That’s a power stealing act if I ever saw one, and completely questionable in terms of love and/or romance. If you deceive someone into loving you and/or fucking and re-fucking you, can you ever form a meaningful relationship? Doesn’t this, in some ways, make you an abuser, particularly through a trust-lens? If you get to select the greatest hits and present them to your prospective significant other, aren’t you basically a huge liar of House of Cards proportions and borderline sexual deviant?
Perhaps, if the women in About Time were given powers equal to the men, I’d take issue less with this idea. As it stands, the men are capable of wreaking havoc on the women’s lives and the women remain oblivious. Dappy’s sister is a prime example of this, being in a physically abusive relationship, and seemingly doomed to repeat her mistakes in any version of the world that Dappy travels to trying to stop her. Dappy berates himself for not being able to save her from herself and her bad choices, and I completely wish she had the power he did, that she was entrusted with the chance to really own the choices she’s made in her own life and not be pitied for them. But alas, that’s not Richard Curtis’ vision. Instead, she’s a pathetic pawn, who should be grateful for any scrap she’s thrown. And as for unknowingly relinquishing all of her control to Dappy’s version of events? Well, she’s a woman. What does she know?
I didn’t actually get to the end of the film this second time around. I felt too sick, seriously. Like sicker than any episode of Hannibal has made me. And I really can’t be fucked at this point. Sure, all rom-coms are manipulative. Katherine Heigl doesn’t always act with the best intentions. Kate Hudson would fuck your best friend in the fraction of a heart beat. But there’s something sinister in the excising of control, here, especially when it comes to a person’s right to their own memories, experiences, decisions and emotions. And I don’t know about you, but if I’m going to fuck somebody, I’d like to own my recollection of that event, even if it’s shit. That’s my god damn human right.
All in all , this movie kind of makes me miss Hugh Grant. Give me that Notting Hill bench and the worst Ronan Keating song of all time, any day. A call to the end of so-called rom-coms in which women are wooed with their own ideas and opinions as secretly obtained by male protagonists. I can seduce myself into sex any time I choose. But if you want it, work for it. Don’t time travel me into it, douchebag.