All in Good Time falls into a very specific school of gentle British comedy. It’s comedy for sheltered and perhaps even somewhat naïve people for whom sex is still a curious mystery that should never be spoken about without some sense of “hilarious” embarrassment. The script actually comes from an old play by Alfie creator Bill Naughton and while at the time of its pre-sexual revolution conception the material may have seemed out there and risky, now it’s all rather quaint. This version began as a British stage revival from East is East screenwriter Ayub Khan-Din who got around the potentially dated material by sliding it into the context of a traditional Hindi family. The approach sounds somewhat racist in theory, but in practice it’s a rather sweet film that gets away with some considerable flaws thanks to careful casting and an even more carefully placed heart. Make no mistake, All in Good Time is an almost painfully slight movie, but it is at least fun before vanishing almost instantly from memory.
The set up is simple. A happy couple Atul (Reece Ritchie) and Vina (Amara Karan) come home from a fancy dancy wedding with plans to ring in their newlywed status the best way possible. The only trouble is that they’re currently living with Atul’s parents (Harish Patel and Meera Syal) and gettin’ it on ain’t easy with your parents in earshot. To make matters worse, the father is particularly intent on ensuring the couple enjoy sweet loving and gets so personal that Atul just can’t perform. From there a great shame swells up in the house and local community as word spreads that the wedding remains depressingly unconsummated. On top of that the whole drama turns into a private fight between Atul and the old man about the expectations the immigrant father had for his son given all of the opportunities provided to him by a British upbringing.
It’s familiar territory to be sure. You can’t really judge this sort of flick based on originality or meaning, it basically all comes down to how well everyone involved trotted through the familiar territory and thankfully everyone did a decent job. The film comes from director Nigel Cole whose previous work like Saving Grace and Made in Dagenham gives a good indication of what to expect. He’s very much of the Richard Curtis school of British comedy. No need for Mike Leigh style observation or misery here, just foamy laughs with enough emotional undercurrent to give the illusion of it being more substantial. That sounds like an insult, but it isn’t really. Making light comedy that doesn’t descend into a syrupy mess when emotions start rearing their ugly heads is harder than it seems and Cole gets it more right than wrong. The sex jokes here never become too Benny Hill lewd or silly, they always come from an identifiable place even if there’s nothing genuinely uncomfortable being explored. The movie at least feels sincere and benefits greatly from grounded performances that keep it all in the realm of realism. Ritchie and Karan are perfectly fine as the attractive and befuddled leads, but the real gold here comes from the parents. Syal is a veteran of British comedy series like The Kumars At No. 42 and know how to get laughs out of the smallest of gestures without descending into sketch comedy absurdity, while Patel rings every moment of awkward comedy gold out of his character and still manages to make him rounded enough to slap the audience across the face with an emotional wallop when needed.
Everything in All in Good Time works decently, the major problem is just that it never seems to go far enough. The cringe-factor inherent in a sex-coaching father should make viewers feel ill and the immigration backstory should provoke tears, but that never really happens. Even the finest moments like when Patel reminisces on his honeymoon in which he spent more time with his best friend that his new bride don’t really tred into uncomfortable areas like they should. There’s a far better and more modern comedy of manners to be found in this material that Cole and co. didn’t have the balls to explore and that will leave many Brit-com lovers feeling a stroke away from completion. However, All in Good Time isn’t really a movie about exploring mores and taboos, it’s a family comedy designed to provoke smiles and give conservative viewers the illusion that they’ve seen something naughty. On that level I suppose it’s a success. If the idea of a comedy in which a Greek Chorus of middle age wives sit around smoking, giggling, and acting shocked as their neighbors discuss sex (god forbid!) sounds appealing to ya, then this is about as good as it gets. For everyone else, there’s an overflowing batch of brilliant British comedy out there to enjoy instead.