Grant is 52, was born in London and has dark hair. Gleeson is 22 years younger, was born in Dublin and has inherited the ginger gene from his actor father Brendan. But close your eyes when Gleeson's voiceover kicks in at the start of About Time, and you'd swear that Grant was doing the talking. The cadence, the posh veneer, the slightly condescending philosophical tone of the observations - that's either Hugh Grant, or director Richard Curtis only has one writing mode when it comes to his leading men.
I fear the latter is true. And while About Time doesn't commit the horrendous crimes of New Labour smugness that ruined Curtis's directorial debut, Love Actually, it has all the markers - good and bad - that distinguish his written work. There is a romantic heart beating somewhere in the story, but it's smothered in sentimentality; there are a few laugh-out-loud lines to be had, but far fewer than in, say, Four Weddings And A Funeral; there are some great character turns, but others are in danger of becoming the comfortably middle-class equivalent of Mike Leigh's happy-go-lucky caricatures. Oh, and the leading lady is an American who works in the arts, albeit with books rather than fashion magazines like Four Weddings' Carrie or Hollywood movies like Notting Hill's Anna.
With as many points against as for, About Time creates problems for itself when trying to convince us to swallow Curtis's suspiciously whimsical conceit: that all the men in Tim's (Gleeson) family can at any moment step into a darkened space, clench their fists, concentrate, and travel back in time.
They can't make major changes to world history, but they can mop up their own trivial faux pas. Tim's dad (Bill Nighy) has used the trick to read all the classics of literature; Tim himself uses it to get a girlfriend, specifically the not-too-flashy Mary (Rachel McAdams), although the screenplay's final act demands that he use what's effectively a watered-down comic-book superpower to right some more emotionally serious wrongs.
Unfortunately, however, this is the kind of British film where the character we're supposed to sympathise with most will say: "I was staying in St John's Wood, near Abbey Road, with a playwright friend of my dad's called Henry", and expect to get away with it. Where a bumbling sidekick friend makes a stumbling wedding speech and we're supposed to smile at the in-joke homage to Four Weddings rather than compare the two films unfavourably. Where a family's downtime is typically spent watching a film projected outdoors in their lovely garden beside their big house on the edge of a beautiful English beach, even if it's raining (they hadn't noticed...). Where Bill Nighy gives an identical performance to the film you saw him in last, and the one before that.
These are people the vast majority of the audience will never get to know because they only really exist inside the closed world of a British cultural elite (key scenes are set at a Mario Testino exhibition of Kate Moss portraits and at the National Theatre on London's South Bank). Of course that's no reason not to make films about them, even if you only do so because you hold the keys to their kingdom yourself; but it does place an obstacle in the way of multiplex audience empathy. About Time is Groundhog Day for the Hampstead glitterati, a fairytale of fops that's saved only by the deeper layers that Gleeson brings to the surface charm handed him by Curtis's script.