What makes for a good romantic comedy? To be honest, I may be the wrong person to ask, since I have it on good authority that my narrative preferences lean towards the melancholy, if not the downright depressing. Which probably makes me the last person who should argue the qualities of good romantic comedies. Most entries in the genre strike me as manipulative, dishonest and often toxic in their notions of romance and courtship, not to mention their views on masculinity and femininity. And, last but not least, I have pretty dim views of the genre’s infatuation with phony happily-ever-after tropes.
So it may not be a huge surprise that what may be my favourite romantic comedy of the last ten years (okay, nine years – I liked (500) Days of Summer quite a bit) revolves around one of the main characters almost dying and being in a medically-induced coma for much of its running time. Nothing more romantic than that, eh?
Richard Curtis, I’ll happily admit: your 2013 film About Time made me smile, laugh and shed a manly tear. Okay, not quite, but I found myself touched and moved. It also made me want to shout obscenities and throw things at the TV, and not in good ways: About Time can be witty in one scene and trite in the next, it has moments of poignancy and others that are saccharine, and it manages to come off both charmingly self-effacing and smug under the disguise of glib humility.
Perhaps it’s difficult to imagine how such an overtly inoffensive film could leave me so angry when I’d actually say that I enjoyed a lot of it. About Time is that most common of genres, the time-travel rom-dram-com, and the way it brings together its outlandish conceit may be one of the things I liked best – like all the men in his bloodline, the main character Tim (played by Domhnall Gleeson) can travel back in time within the limits of his own life, making changes as he sees fit. Why? Dunno. How? He just needs to go and stand in a dark cupboard, clench his fists and concentrate. In one of many lovely father-and-son scenes, Tim’s dad (Bill Nighy, as charmingly odd as ever) basically gives his son a Curtisian version of Looper’s diagrams-and-straws speech which boils down to this: shh, it’s silly, let’s have some fun with this, okay?