Plummer gives his late out-of-the-closet character a level of dimension that transcends the material. It's a shame the film is more concerned with style making the topic lose its bite therefore minimizing its impact.
Like another 2011 Oscar-winning acting gem "The Iron Lady", "Beginners" is held together by a hard-working genius. Too bad the rest of the film doesn't work quite as hard.
This is a boy meets girl story - or more to the point, damaged boy meets quirky girl story. As a side story we have the story of boy's father (expertly played by Christopher Plummer - coming as no surprise to anyone), which is mostly told in flashbacks. Fortunately, writer/director Mike Mills does a capable job of interspersing the secondary story of the father with the tale of the son, so that it all seems pertinent and not a distraction.
The big tease here is that Plummer, upon the death of his wife of over 40 years, comes out of the closet. This is a revelation to his son, who knew "something" was amiss with his parent's relationship, but hadn't figured on his father being gay. The film thankfully does not dwell on the son trying to deal with dad's gayness, but instead brings to the fore a spirit of the celebration of life that seems to elude the son in his prior relationships.
The tone of the film comes from the quirky sentiments and drawings of the son (a solid Ewan McGregor performance), especially when he works on a piece he calls the history of sadness. Following this same quirkiness, you have McGregor dressed as Freud at a costume party, attracted to a woman who refuses to speak to him; preferring to write it all down (claiming she has laryngitis). A totally different take on the usual boy meets girl routine.
What follows is somewhat predictable, and occasionally falls upon some dreary sentiments that somehow only appear in films like "I don't know what love is supposed to feel like" - uh, if you aren't sure, then you ain't! (but that's just my perspective).
So, passable entertainment, and some nice wordplay make this a worthwhile watch, though I did suffer one WTF moment. McGregor and a friend have started doing "industrial art" i.e. tagging - he wants to impress his new girly, so he asks her what her opinion of vandalism is - to which she replies "I guess I?m ok with it". Holy moly, whether you agree with tagging or not, vandalism encompasses much more than that - and at the time girly has no idea that McGregor is only speaking of tagging - so girly is ok with the random destruction of other people's things - not someone I would want to hang with, would you?
Every character has cute little quirks: Hal talking to inanimate objects and replying for them; Georgia "killing" the young Oliver in various ways and "interacting" with the artwork; Oliver's funny/sad drawings; Arthur, the dog's nonverbal dialogue:
Arthur: She's unlike any girl I've met.
Oliver: Someone flashy walks into your life and you're just gonna fall for it.
Arthur: Are we married yet?
Oliver: No, it doesn't work like that. There are other steps. It's complicated.
Arthur: I hope this feeling lasts.
Oliver: Yeah, me too.
The ending is too easy and open though. Oliver and Anna still have issues far deeper than just "commitment anxiety." They come back into each others' lives, and the audience is supposed to be happy that they're trying again despite not knowing what the fuck they're going to do.
Genre: Comedy, Drama.
Question: Do you think you became who you are because of the way your parents purposely raised you? Sure - it is natural to think that. But after watching Beginners today I now think it is also our observation of our parents as a couple that can also have a profound effect - both good and bad.
You can have a wonderful childhood. Your parents love you, take care of you, and fulfill your basic needs. But what happens when they don't really love each other? A child watching two parents who tolerate - not hate - and just merely exist in the same household can alter a person's path - irrecoverably. That is the premise of Beginners. It isn't pretty but it is real. Perhaps too real for some.
Beginners is probably not for everyone. I, however, enjoyed it very much. It is slow, quiet and sad but filled with a glimmer of hope for better times to come. The story takes a look at some of the not-so-great emotions we humans endure in order to find the good in life. Many might not want to go through the emotional roller coaster that this movie takes but I recommend it anyway.
The film is about a young man (Ewan McGregor) whose father (Christopher Plummer) passes away and we meet him a couple of months after. He is going through the depression phase of loosing a parent but it goes deeper than that. He also lost his mother several years prior and after that his father announces, at the age of 75, that he is gay and out. Now I am not spoiling the movie for you with this information because it is all said within the first five minutes. This movie is about a journey that the young man takes and how he comes out on the other end.
The movie follows a convoluted path with some in the present not too soon after his father's death and with flashbacks of his father's life as an out and about gay man. In addition we see some childhood memories of him and his mother. As a young boy he witnessed his parents and their relationship or lack thereof. It effects him so much that he has difficulty with other relationships. However, he becomes a compassionate person despite the unconventional upbringing.
There are also some odd storytelling quirks thrown in that I rather enjoyed. This is definitely an independent film that doesn't follow much of the Hollywood standards.
I sat there totally drawn in - watching a person at a vulnerable state in their life while still having compassion was intriguing. The cinema, for me, is not just about escaping your reality to witness someone gain some inexplicable power or watch two people falling in love despite the obstacles set in front of them. It is about exploring human nature and what all that means. We are flawed, we are illogical and we can't help who we love. We cannot control any of those things and why should we? Beginners was brave enough to discuss these points. Bravo!
Ewan McGregor was perfect in this role. No, I am not saying that just because he is my all time favorite actor. He is a great actor and he had to show a lot of restraint mixed with deep feeling sometimes with just his eyes. I felt his pain, joy, and his sadness. Sorry, but when he teared up - so did I. Christopher Plummer was also fantastic. Watching a man finally live his life the way he always wanted after denying who he truly was for 50+ years was magical. Plus, the father/son relationship was a dear thing to witness.
Beginners explores a part of human nature that is sometimes hard to watch or understand. But I think we, as moviegoers, need that type of escape if only to allow us to reflect on our own lives once in a while. I will admit it was heartbreaking to watch the relationships end. However, when one thing ends something always begins.
My favorite thing: Ewan McGregor, of course!
My least favorite thing: It was a little slow and think that will turn many people away from seeing this film.
Length: 105 minutes
Review: 7 out of 10
Oliver (Ewan McGregor) is a graphic artist that is coming to terms with the death of his father Hal (Christopher Plummer). In his time of grief, he embarks on a romance with French actress Anna (Melanie Laurent), while remembering the past of his parents' failed marriage and when his father revealed that he was gay, and dying of cancer.
I can't honestly say that I was entirely drawn to this film upon it's release. I only checked it out for Plummer's Oscar winning supporting turn, of which, he made history by being the oldest actor to ever be awarded at age 82. The performances of McGregor, Laurent and Goran Visnjic are to be commended also though but Plummer does get the juicier role. As for the material itself, it was peppered with an original quirkiness that managed to just about see it through some periodic lulls. It was too slow for me but I have a suspicion that this might serve better on a second viewing. During my initial sitting though, I found it to waver and lose it's momentum after the hour mark. Ultimately, it's the zesty characters of Plummer and Laurent that keep the film ticking over and despite a good effort from McGregor, his character is a bit too dull and depressing to fully relate to. As it's him that drives the story, the journey becomes somewhat repetitive.
A semi-autobiographical and highly personal story from Mike Mills that has an obvious air of catharsis. It just doesn't allow you to engage, as well as it should.
Director: Mike Mills
Summary: Based on indie director Mike Mills's relationship with his father, this intriguing drama tells the story of Oliver (Ewan McGregor), a graphic artist coming to grips with the imminent death of his father (Christopher Plummer), who, at 75, has one last secret: He's gay. Both inspired and confused by his father's determination to find true love at last, Oliver tentatively pursues a romance with commitment-shy French actress Anna (Mélanie Laurent).
My Thoughts: "I really loved the film. It's charming, honest, and heartfelt. The father starts really living after his wife passes and oddly enough Oliver starts truly living after his father passes. Both letting themselves be honest and finding love in the midst of it. The story is at times depressing, humorous, and beautiful. I did enjoy the father and son story more then Oliver and Anna's. It just seemed to drag a bit. Christopher Plummer stole every scene he was in, as did the Jack Russell Terrier. In all the movie is definitely one I would recommed, and one I would like to see again."
Hal: Well let's say... let's say since you were little, and you've always dreamed of someday getting a lion. And you wait, and you wait, and you wait, and you wait and the lion doesn't come. Then along comes a giraffe. You can be alone, or you can be with the giraffe.
Oliver: I'd wait for the lion.