By Carl Kozlowski
Two new films out this week deal with the theme of time in intriguing and vastly different ways. About Time is the latest offering from romantic-comedy master Richard Curtis (Love Actually, Four Weddings and a Funeral) and follows the escapades of a young man who learns that he has the ability to time travel within the space of his own particular life and alter past events to create better present-day results.
Meanwhile, Dallas Buyers Club looks at the stark yet heroic true story of Ron Woodroof, a homophobic straight man who contracted AIDS in the mid-1980s from engaging in risky sex with needle users and managed to save both his life and those of countless gay men by taking the chance on importing unapproved disease-fighting drugs from Mexico.
Starring Matthew McConnaughey and Jared Leto in performances that will not only redefine their careers but likely earn them Oscars, Dallas Buyers Club hits hard with the message that patients don’t have to accept their doctors’ predictions and can live long and vibrant lives past their expected death dates.
About Time is the easier film to digest and will likely be a big hit, depicting a romantic fantasy that almost anyone could wish for. Tim (Domhnall Gleeson) is a geeky man in his 20s who never has any luck with love, until one day his father (Bill Nighy) tells him that all men in their family have a secret ability to transform the past of their own personal lives and circumstances through very specific time travel.
He uses this skill to romantic and humorous effect in order to win over a beautiful woman during a summer vacation, but fails. When he makes another attempt to lure an American woman named Mary (Rachel McAdams), however, he wins her over in glorious fashion but realizes he can never tell her what he’s done, or else risk looking crazy or dishonest.
As the two get married and have children, About Time shifts from being a clever comedy to a richer drama about the changes one goes through in life and in longtime marriages. Along the way, Tim keeps trying to use his secret ability to save or improve the lives of his loved ones, including saving his alcoholic sister from a terrible car crash caused by her being DUI.
The problem is writer-director Richard Curtis has given viewers too much of a good thing. And while the movie is expertly acted and touchingly crafted, it feels somewhat stretched out and overlong as it goes through one relationship resolution after another.
But the actors are all solid and the concept is an inventive one for the often-predictable genre. That fact, and the first half’s frequently funny situations, should keep men from being too bored, while women will likely love it all the way through.
Meanwhile, Dallas Buyers Club features a man with an entirely different dilemma. Woodroof (McConnaughey) has checked into a hospital because he’s looking gaunt and feeling dizzy after dropping a ton of weight in a matter of months. He learns that he has full-blown AIDS and that doctors are giving him 30 days to live, which comes as a double shock because he has only heard that AIDS is a disease afflicting gay men.
But when he accepts his fate and learns that the only drug being tested to fight AIDS— AZT—is, in fact, hastening most patients’ deaths in trial runs, Woodroof heads south of the border and learns that a rogue doctor has a variety of other medications and proteins that are succeeding. Making deals with that doctor as well as Rayon (Leto), the drag queen who was in the next bed over from him in the hospital, he beats the system and charges of illegally selling the drugs by setting up a “buyers club” in which any person who pays $400 a month can have all the drugs they need to survive.
Of course, this means that the unlikely duo of Woodruff and Rayon are left to not only fight to save their lives but also do battle with the Food and Drug Administration every step of the way. Director Jean-Marc Vallee and writers Craig Borten and Melisa Wallack have given their superb stars plenty to work with and audiences lots of compelling material to consider, with the film mixing dark humor, dramatic tension and well-earned tears to share the tale of an unlikely hero who not only survived for years but led the way to saving millions of lives.
About Time is as soft an R as one can imagine, with barely enough foul language and sex talk to merit its rating, while Dallas Buyers Club is a full-on ride through the dark side of life and a very hard R. But moviegoers who give each a chance will find that their own time was rather well spent.