A 38-year old graphic designer, Oliver (played by Ewan McGregor), is dealing with the death, from cancer, of his father, Hal (Christopher Plummer). Four years earlier Oliver's mother, Georgia (Mary Page Keller) died, also of cancer. Georgia's death was the catalyst for Hal coming out as gay, and finding a boyfriend. Oliver meets a French actress, Anna (Melanie Laurent), and they start a relationship. It's not smooth sailing though.
Very uneven. Some good, quirkily funny, moments, especially involving the dog, who seems to get all the best lines (!). Also some good dramatic moments, especially those dealing with grief and how Oliver uses sketches to show his feelings.
Unfortunately, these moments are few and far between. For the most part the movie meanders around, not finding a purpose or momentum. The scenes involving Oliver and Anna get bogged down in drawn-out soap opera-ish melodrama and always kill off any spark that might have appeared before. The ending is a damp squib.
Can't fault the performances. The highlight is Christopher Plummer as Hal. He was perfect for the role, providing a great mix of sensitivity and passion. Plummer won Best Supporting Actor at the 2012 Oscars, his first and (to date) only Oscar. At 82 he became the oldest winner of a competitive Oscar.
"What is REAL?" 'Does it hurt?' asked the Rabbit.
'Sometimes,' said the Skin Horse, for he was always truthful. 'When you are Real you don't mind being hurt.'
'Does it happen all at once, like being wound up,' he asked, 'or bit by bit?'
'It doesn't happen all at once,' said the Skin Horse. 'You become. It takes a long time. That's why it doesn't happen often to people who break easily, or have sharp edges, or who have to be carefully kept. Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in the joints and very shabby. But these things don't matter at all, because once you are Real you can't be ugly, except to people who don't understand."
These words stand at the core of the film. They were used by Oliver's father in an art opening he curated composed of stuffed animals collected in his community. At the time, unknown to Oliver, this art opening was most likely a tribute to the then recently deceased Harvey Milk, the first openly gay man to be elected to public office. These words resonate in the lives of both Hal and Oliver, with Hal becoming real bit by bit, with Hal's stoic nature preventing him from indulging in exploration of his true self until he is widowed and near death. While Oliver becomes real all at once, leaping from his father's death in an exploration of love, happiness, and himself. Oliver's transformation from his former self takes the form of a young boy bearing witness to his parents' empty marriage to having the courage to explore the happiness in love on his own terms.
With excellent performances from Ewan McGregor and Christopher Plummer, Beginners manages to be both a comedy and a deeply moving portrait of a father and son. The bond between Oliver and his dog, Arthur captures and mimics the bond between Oliver and his mother as a young child. Mike Mills' autobiographical film uses tenderness and humor to sketch out the enduring bonds between the main characters.