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A Brief Review of "Frequently Asked Questions About Time Travel" (2009)

Frequently Asked Questions About Time Travel is kind of a frustrating movie to watch.  It's interesting and clever enough to hook you, but not interesting or clever enough to actually excel.

The plot concerns the misadventures of three nerds at a bar one night when a mysterious woman claiming to be a time traveler (Anna Faris) shows up.  They laugh off the idea of time travel, but then find themselves caught in an unexpected wormhole in the mens' room, which leads them to a variety of uncontrollable travels - all centered around the same bar at different times in history.

The confined setting and the likable cast draw you in.  It's got an excellent sense of pacing and (pun half-intended) timing.  Things escalate at the right beats and slow down at others, and they tease just enough mystery to keep you invested.

But... well, if I may, I'd like to immediately get distracted from my review and insert a tangentially-related half-memory.  (Skip ahead about three paragraphs if this doesn't sound fun to you.)

Back when I was in college and I still held out hope that I could somehow break into the film industry (through magic, I guess), I remember taking every opportunity I could to watch other young filmmakers' films.  I suppose my theory was that if I glommed onto other people's talents, I'd absorb something via osmosis.  The problem with this theory, of course, is that I was absorbing info from other amateurs - kind of the worst way to go about learning something, right?

One of the student films that stood out to me the most was a movie about what superheroes do in their spare time.  Basically like Clerks, except everyone was a superhero.  At the time, I was blown away by the innovation and cleverness.  I just kept thinking, "What a great concept!"

Unfortunately, a great premise on its own is not enough to sustain a movie - especially not one modeled after the Kevin Smith school of "putting two smug assholes in front of a camera and talking about comics."  So, in retrospect, the movie was pretty much garbage.  I don't even remember much about it beyond that central conceit, and what few scraps I can still hold onto are embarrassing at best.  (Incidentally, many years later I watched Alter Egos, which is almost the exact same movie but with a better camera.  So if you want to relive the broken memory of a crappy movie, watch Alter Egos.)

FAQATT reminds me a lot of that student film.  It's significantly better, to be fair, but it's just plain not funny.  You can see that the movie is enjoying itself, but you never feel like part of that club.

The main reason is the three central characters.  They're supposed to be relatable lovable loser types; nerds like you and me who got dealt kind of a raw deal with their career prospects and who can't seem to get their good ideas off the ground, but who would be incredibly successful if given a fair chance.

Except that they just kinda seem like a bunch of idiots.  Chris O'Dowd's character was fired from his job at an amusement park for screaming "fuck" at a bunch of kids and his sidekicks are doofs who need comic book and science fiction concepts explained to them despite being mid-twenties slackers.  It feels like you're watching an embarrassing younger version of yourself having a conversation with an even more embarrassing younger version of yourself.

Like... what kind of nerds don't understand time travel?  Who did you think this movie was for that you felt the need to have the apathetic guy who mixes up Star Wars and Star Trek to serve as an audience surrogate?

You know the people who get irrationally upset about The Big Bang Theory because of "nerdface?" It's kind of like the inverse of that.  Like, I'm pretty sure Dean Lennox Kelly knows who Jor-El is.  You don't have to debase yourself for movies, dude.

(Come to think of it, what would the opposite of nerdface be?  An "Uncle Tron?")

FAQATT is a perfect example of an Almost Good Movie.  I can picture myself rewatching it some day with the misguided belief that it might have somehow become a better film between viewings.  I don't recommend anybody go out of their way to see it, but if it happens to come on cable while you're watching TV... don't change the channel?  Does that count as praise?  I don't even know anymore.

My Rating: 2.5 / 5 (AGM)

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