Robert Vaughn’s This Time is home to everything from the horrors of conversion therapy to alcoholism, loss, and grief. A drama of this scale could follow any of these concepts closely, and while the film reaches its destination, it does so with some meandering along the way. It can be difficult for any filmmaker to really focus on what their work is about, but This Time chooses to leave its foot on the gas until it figures this out.
This Time follows Grace Mitchum (Anwen O’Driscoll) and Red Burns (Charles Martin Smith) as they trek across the country to know where to spread Grace’s father’s ashes. On its own, this trek would be a compelling plot, with plenty of room to watch these characters change and grow. However, Vaughn and writer Allie Jennings choose to add so much to the narrative that, by the end of things, the trek seems almost incidental.
Grace, ever the good Christian girl, is caught kissing another girl by her seemingly abusive stepfather and is being sent to a conversion therapy facility as a result. Once again, this is already compelling on its own. To escape, she steals the hearse from the family’s funeral home and enlists Red to drive it, someone fundamentally incredibly different from her.
Vaughn and his team devote equal time to Grace’s escape from the perceptions of her sexuality and Red’s alcoholism, on top of a story already jam-packed with a road trip story and one of actually figuring out who Grace’s father was. It’s no bad thing to have so much going on in a plot, but when everything moves at 70 miles per hour, it’s difficult to make out where the characters actually are.
There are a lot of ways to show how characters relate to each other, but more than in any other movie this year, I wish I could just watch Grace and Red really talk. Sure, they’re always speaking to each other throughout the film, but they’re not talking, not really. So much of their relationship seems to improve by pushing each other to their limit, but the consequences of that are rarely seen or felt. Even as Grace ends up at the facility, she seems to forgive Red right away.
If all of the above wasn’t enough, Grace is still left wondering about the life her father led in a series of letters he had written to, seemingly, Liza Minnelli. Each story he tells is visited, each location a destination. Some of these could have been left alone, but they’re all made of equal importance to Grace, so they’re destined to share the film’s runtime with everything else.
This Time tries its best to explore the life of a queer minor, one facing unimaginable struggles. As the film moves at a breakneck pace, Grace does too; she has to. Red’s own problems and bad decisions get mixed up in all of this: he’s been spiraling for what seems like forever. When the film changes course halfway through, it’s the only way through all the destinations of its plot.
The film’s strongest sequence by far is in the conversion therapy facility. I even said aloud that I wish the entire film had shared some of this direction. The entire way Grace perceives the world is changed: Dutch angles and vivid lights replace the muted colors and traditional camera work of how she had been living before.
As Grace and Red both accept and work on their problems, things begin to slow. Never enough to actually take a second and stop, mind you, but enough to notice. They both acclimate to their situations, to the people they are. They share more common ground, pushing each other to succeed instead of just testing their breaking points. As they finally reach Los Angeles and their destination, they’re no longer pulling all of the other plot threads behind them.
Sure, Grace and Red’s lives will be changed permanently and may even become worse, but they’ll be living. To be trapped running or spiraling is a terrible thing, one that can be impossible to break out of. The fact that the notes left for Grace to decipher seem to show her father failing to do the same is heartbreaking, a man without someone else to push him to be better, instead of just pushing him.
With a mix of strong performances, This Time may not be for everyone. But, with a message that’s able to come through every single plot thread, every destination on its trip, the film is worth a shot for anyone looking for a little push. With a cast and crew that are largely queer themselves, there’s a lot of passion onscreen at any given moment, and This Time makes it evident that every part of this journey is equally important.