Fans of television shows and movies about time travel such as Doctor Who, The Time Traveller’s Wife and Back to the Future will gravitate to About Time.
The film, directed by the legendary Richard Curtis (Four Weddings and a Funeral, Notting Hill, Bean, Bridget Jones franchise), is about Tim (Domhnall Gleeson), who discovers the ability to travel through time from his father (Bill Nighy). He gets a girlfriend (Rachel McAdams), and uses his time travelling ability to make things like marriage proposals perfect and stop bad things from happening. As he discovers, time travel can be dangerous and can’t insulate him from the ups and downs of life.
The About Time soundtrack captures the upheaval in Tim’s life through the randomness of its tracklisting. The album places gentle piano/orchestral pieces next to pop classics from the past few decades, as if to depict the confusion Tim must be feeling when travelling constantly between the past and present.
Ben Folds’ The Luckiest kicks off the soundtrack. It is a pleasant, schmaltzy ballad that reminds me of ABBA’s Crazy World, a forgotten b-side on the Money Money Money single. The repetition of ‘I am’ before ‘I am the luckiest’ and the mundane lyrics (‘maybe i’ll be outside as you pass on your bike’) suggest that Tim is simply grateful to have met the love of his life. It is an appropriate opener to this soundtrack for a rom-com.
Two versions of How Long Will I Love You appear on the soundtrack: one by Jon Boden, Sam Sweeney & Ben Coleman and the other by upcoming pop starlet Ellie Goulding. Boden, Sweeney and Coleman’s version is clearly superior, as it is full of vitality and emotion. There are glorious harmonies, electric guitars and percussion that wouldn’t make this rendition out of place on the ‘Mamma Mia- The Movie’ soundtrack. Goulding is the new ‘it’ girl after her appearance on Calvin Harris’ I Need Your Love and her hit Anything Can Happen. She has a decent voice that suits the song’s arrangement of piano, strings, drums and chimes. However, the auto-tune sticks out like a sore thumb and makes her version an unnecessary addition to the soundtrack.
Paul Buchanan’s Mid Air, Ron Sexsmith’s Gold In Them Hills, Nick Cave’s Into My Arms and the instrumental contributions by Nick Laird-Clowes all represent a recurring motif of this soundtrack: simple, stripped back piano and string arrangements in similar keys. The selection of these piano ballads suggests that About Time has many quiet, tender and romantic moments where a subdued soundtrack would be more befitting.
Of course, audiences would expect dramatic, emotional moments in the film. Il Mondo by 1960s Italian singer Jimmy Fontana is clearly suited to such scenes as it is the soundtrack’s bombastic, emotional highlight.
The pop classics in Friday I’m in Love (The Cure), Back to Black (the late Amy Winehouse), Mr Brightside (The Killers), Push The Button (Sugababes) and All The Things She Said (T.A.T.U.) bring the soundtrack into the mainstream. After all, both Gleeson and McAdams play young adults so things have to lighten up a bit (with the exception of Back to Black, which would be used in a particularly depressing scene).
Groove Armada’s At The River and Barbar Gough’s cover of Nat King Cole’s When I Fall In Love jazz things up, seemingly for the film’s more sensual scenes. Listeners should be glad that I See You Baby wasn’t included on the soundtrack instead!
Spiegel Im Spiegel, which translates into ‘mirrors in the mirror’ in German, is devastatingly beautiful. Its soft piano triads and string arrangement performed by Sebastien Klinger and Jürgen Kruse aches, whispers and contemplates for ten delicate minutes. That might be too long for most listeners, but classical music enthusiasts will appreciate the inclusion of this Arvo Pärt composition on the film’s soundtrack.
Overall, the About Time soundtrack depicts the variety of experiences of life such as love, heartbreak, joy, reflection and confusion. Combining piano and orchestral songs with uptempo, modern pop classics may seem daft on paper, but it somehow works on record. This is so because the soundtrack is simply a fine, eclectic selection of songs. Actually, it would have been even more effective if it ended with Spiegel Im Spiegel.