This Time starts by introducing Ava (Nadine Lustre), a young woman despondent over the arrival of summer. Over dinner with her family, she talks vaguely about having moved on from somebody, but not having recovered. The film then moves to 2005, where she first meets Coby (James Reid), an ambassador’s grandson who’s only ever around during the summer. The two meet as kids and become close friends. And as they grow older, they start developing romantic feelings for each other. But because they can only be together one summer at a time, they’re hesitant to put a real label on what they’re feeling for each other.
It isn’t entirely clear where this flashback ends, and where the narrative loops back to the opening sequences. This is the first immediate problem of the film, the fuzzy narrative structure causing the movie to lose emotional cohesion. But this is only the start of the film’s problems. The movie benefits from a central couple that in isolated moments can really light up the screen. But nearly everything that surrounds them is awful nonsense.
This is the story of a relationship between two people, but the movie seems to be more concerned with what everybody else thinks. It surrounds them with a chorus of busybodies, all telling these characters how they feel. It gets excessively loud and broad, the movie overplaying the involvement of everybody in town in the relationship of these two. The film actually lacks scenes where the two are just made to deal with the things that they’re feeling. So much of this film is Ava being told that she should be doing something, or that she shouldn’t be doing something, often by more than one person, and very loudly.
This all seems to be part of an attempt to make the film funny somehow. The treatment as a whole is kind of a mess, the direction pulling the movie in several different directions. It is best as a low-key romantic drama, focusing on the small moments of connection between the leads. As a comedy, it feels unsure of its approach. It throws a lot in there: loud parents, sassy friends, overwrought laugh lines, and at certain points, animated overlays that mimic the effect of Snapchat filters. It all feels terribly messy, and it takes away from the main attraction.
Because the story of these two kids, while not novel, or even particularly well told, offers a relatable platform of emotion. It kind of loses that in the third act, where it introduces a really flimsy conflict, but there are bits that feel reasonably well thought out. And when the movie just leaves the two alone, it’s able to put together a couple of nice moments. James Reid and Nadine Lustre look more and more comfortable on screen together, and their familiarity with each other offers a shade of realism that cuts through the awful artificiality of the rest of the film.
This Time overcrowds a very simple story of two young people trying to make the best out of a difficult situation. It takes the internal, personal conflict of a young person in love and does everything it can to externalize it, surrounding Ava with a collection of people that exist solely to give voice to the things that she’s feeling. And in all that noise, the film loses the depth of feeling, the perceived gravity of what these young lovers are going through. It has so many people up on screen playing the audience to this romance. The movie seems to forget that there is already an audience out there, and they don’t need to be told how to feel.