Star Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars
There’s just something about a good time travel film that fills me with childlike delight. Back to the Future, About Time, and Primer are easily three of my favorite films about time travel. Now with Frequently Asked Questions About Time Travel, I can add a fourth favorite to my list. Produced in part by HBO and BBC, Frequently Asked Questions About Time Travel does for time travel comedies what Primer did for more serious time travel films. Starring Chris O’Dowd, Marc Wooton, Dean Lennox Kelly, and Anna Faris, this film is a testament with what can be achieved with a low budget, a good story, and great actors.
After Ray (O’Dowd) gets fired from his job, Ray and his two friends Toby (Wooton) and Pete (Kelly) und up at a pub, where they discuss everything wrong with hollywood films. While Ray is grabbing a round of drinks he runs into Cassie (Faris), a girl who claims to be from the future. Cassie reveals that there is a time leak somewhere in the pub that could cause massive issues for those in the pub. As the rest of the evening unfolds for the three friends, they find themselves in and out of time as the time leak sends back and forth through time, on the run from people who wish to alter events in history. The film largely plays out like a bottle episode of a tv show, with all of the events centering on the pub where the time leak is centered. With the exception of the beginning and a scene in the middle of the film, the film never leaves the pub where Roy, Pete, and Toby are.
Having already experience O’Dowd in The IT Crowd and Mascots, I was already familiar with his work and his comedy. This film just gave me another reason to enjoy him. Prior to this film I had no experience with Marc Wooton or Dean Lennox Kelly, but after this I am more interested in following up on their other work. the three of them provide a friendship that is as natural on screen as Nick Frost and Simon Pegg. If this film was more popular, it could easily make a Buzzfeed quick, “Which Frequently Asked Questions About Time Travel character are you?” because of how they epitomize a group friendship. In recent years, I’ve only experienced Anna Faris as a voice actress in Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs, but this film should be an example of what she is capable of. It’s not the over the top, stoner humor of the Scary Movie franchise. It’s a more balanced performance that comes across as genuine.
A strength of this film is how its story plays out simultaneously in a linear and non-linear fashion. The story anchors itself to the three main characters, and as they each experience a jump in time, so does the audience. This means that as the film unfolds, the audience slowly becomes privy to information that makes previous scenes even funnier. There are certain scenes taking place in the present where it is discovered later that future versions of Ray, Toby, and Pete were hiding just around the corner. There are other scenes where one of the characters will jump through time and see events that have yet to happen in the story. It’s a playful look at how time is experienced atemporally, filled with jokes and cynicism. Ray acts as the voice of knowledge in the group when things start to go awry. Both Toby and Pete look to him as the explanation of how to make it through the various time jumps. This means that Ray also explains things to the audience. I really hate exposition like this because often times it feels cumbersome and lazy, but in this case it somewhat works. With Ray explaining all of the ins-and-outs of time travel, not only would this film have a different title, but it would be a lot closer to a comedic Donnie Darko, since very few scenes and events would make sense.
Frequently Asked Questions About Time Travel is one of those films that deserves more recognition than it has received. Its a cheaply made film with a creative and engaging story. The actors and their characters are great. In terms of time travel films and paradoxes, I have been hard pressed to find one within this film. Instead of making itself into a mess of time travel conundrums like Terminator 2 did, or dare I say it, Back to the Future 2, Frequently Asked Questions About Time Travel, ties itself up neatly in the end with a resolution that will leave you satisfying. There are no huge twists or turns, just a good film about time travel. I can only hope that it will eventually gain a larger cult following.