If ever there was a reason to lose your mind it’s over being in love. Rachel McAdams has taken it to another level. In her latest film, written and directed by the indomitable Richard Curtis (Love Actually, Notting Hill, Four Weddings and a Funeral, The Bridget Jones’s Diary films), she again falls victim to temporal/mental manipulation in the name of love. I think being that lovable may eventually kill her. Oh wait, it did in one of them.
I like Richard Curtis’s filmography. I think he’s written many of the better romantic comedies in the past two decades. True, that’s not saying much since most of them are that bad, but I think we’ve all been familiar enough with his work to understand the sentiment. Even now, with his new film About Time, featuring Domhnall Gleason, Rachel McAdams, and the always winning Bill Nighy, the material comes off fresh even though we know it’s not. Maybe it’s the charm in his filmmaking or his casting choices, but there’s obviously something more there. And while I’m admittedly trying to utilize this post as a spotlight for this movie, I’m also trying to pull double duty in illuminating a weird niche that Rachel McAdams seems to have corned the market on — she’s constantly the victim of mind games.
Sure, you can argue that any romantic comedy is going to inherently feature mind games pretty heavily. But the ones that she’s been in have an extra element that kind of sets them apart from the rest of the fare. Let’s explore.
Perhaps her most notable role, at least the one that placed her within the public consciousness, was 2004’s The Notebook. For those who haven’t seen it, or pretend that they haven’t, Ryan Gosling is clearly the love of her life, but it’s young summer love, he’s poor, she’s rich with a disapproving family, and life goes on. Cut to many years down the line and she’s engaged to someone of a more proper station and he’s popped back into her life by a chance newspaper feature that she notices. The hook of the film is that their history is a story being told during the present by an older man to an older woman with Alzheimer’s in a nursing home. It’s obviously them and we now know that they’d ended up together and built a life that seems to have all but completely slipped away from her. His story telling provides her short reprieves from the haze and grants them fleeting moments of lucidity and recognition. He has her back again in these moments. The bittersweet, heavy on the bitter, ending is that they both pass away in their sleep, but not before lying together one last time, hand in hand. In fairness, Rachel McAdams isn’t the actress who’s lost her mind, but it was her character, and it does set the stage for later roles to cash in on that promise.
In 2009’s The Time Traveler’s Wife, McAdams plays a woman who has fallen hopelessly in love with a man who can travel through time. But not being one to change the course of history or anything close to that grandiose, Eric Bana‘s time jumps are fixated purposefully within Rachel McAdams’s time stream so that she repeatedly encounters him as early on as a little girl and continues to do so as she grows up. The catch is his jumps are random so he never quite knows when in her or their history he’s showing up. Sadder still, it’s never a one to one exchange as his disappearances aren’t always neatly replaced by an appearance of a different version of himself. Meaning, she goes through long periods of being without him and neither one can really count on if and when he exists at any given moment of time. But they both resign themselves to this maddening fate. Because love. Obviously. Though, at least in this film she’s given the dignity of rightly telling him that she of course had no choice but to fall in love with him when her earliest and most formative memories are of this magical man whose existence seems perpetually entwined with her own.
Skip ahead a few years to 2012’s The Vow, and McAdams has now landed yet another dream man this time played by Channing Tatum. They belong together and are hopelessly in love. But then a sudden car crash strikes the couple and she loses her memory as a result of the accident. Now Channing has to be more Channing than he’s ever been before to win her over for a second time. This proves to be difficult as her family doesn’t much care for him and would rather she be with an ex that seems all too willing to get his second chance as well. Her gut is somewhat telling her that there really was/is something real between her and Tatum despite her family, former suitor, and old personality traits telling her otherwise. Internal struggles abound.
I must say, honorable mentions go to the following:
- 2002’s The Hot Chick, which has a curse placing Rachel McAdams’s mind/personality into Rob Schneider‘s body.
- 2005’s Red Eye, which has Cillian Murphy psychologically torturing and manipulating her on a crowded plane.
- 2011’s Midnight in Paris, which again features her boyfriend played by Owen Wilson going on midnight time traveling jaunts that leave her befuddled and angry.
- The Robert Downey Jr. Sherlock Holmes films, which have her playing a manipulated pawn that’s ultimately killed as a casualty of war — if war were a battle of wits between two of the greatest minds known to literature. How fitting.
And now, with About Time, Domhnall Gleason is yet another time traveler seeking to take advantage of Rachel McAdams’s temporally challenged mind. In what seems like a never ending series of do overs and mulligans that only time travel could possibly allow he of course wins her over. There’s only a trailer so far, so we’ll see where this story will lead after the inevitable conflict that separates them. Do I fault her for doing this movie? No, because it actually looks promising based on the trailer and pedigree of the writer/director alone. But am I a bit frustrated that she’s continually found herself in these specifically compromising situations? The answer is yes. She may be too good for her own good at playing someone who’s always just slightly in the dark or otherwise out of the loop. I do think she’s a good actress since that off kilter role of not quite knowing what everyone else does requires a nuanced performance. The trouble is that doing it over and over again diminishes it with every iteration. Personally, I’m very much looking forward to the film. I think Nighy is unbeatable, I think Gleason will be on point in the role that’s required of him, and I have every expectation that McAdams will be perfect in hers. It’s not like she hasn’t done it before.