KieraMaloney's Rating of Beginners

Kiera's Review of Beginners

4 years ago via Rotten Tomatoes


Organic, natural, endearing, honest, sincere, quiet. These are words that come to mind when attempting to describe this film. Beginners is about a young man named Oliver (Ewan McGregor). His mother has passed away recently and his father, Hal, has just told him that he's gay. The story is told in flashbacks and chronicles Oliver's romance with French actress Anna (Mélanie Laurent) and Hal's (Christopher Plummer) approach towards death from terminal cancer. No, these are not spoilers.

This is not a film that really can be spoiled. It has a very unusual structure with no distinct climax. In this way, it's lifelike. After all, our lives don't move on a straight arrow towards one climactic event-- events and emotions come in waves and it's hard to chronicle them in any concrete manner.

But for a film, is this structure successful? I think two primary reasons we go to the movies are to achieve escapism or a deepened understanding of our own reality. We like to live vicariously. For these reasons, I don't think the film is 100% successful structure-wise. Because of how the flashbacks and dialogue are employed, there is a slight sleepiness throughout the film. Each scene functions like a breath of air, adding up to something solidified. It's difficult to strip away the conventions of a climactic build when we're sitting there in expectation.

Ewan McGregor is controlled and reserved and creates a guy who's very easy to sympathize with. Christopher Plummer has a sort of subdued exuberance, which makes him completely enchanting and endearing as a character. Mélanie Laurent's part has been played many times over, i.e. the mysterious female with emotional baggage. However, she does well to create a very appealing character. As for Oliver's dog, Arthur, he is one of the best dogs I've seen on film.

I do applaud director Mike Mills. I think he did something very different and very honest with this film. He managed to capture a great deal of the complexity of relationships. It's artful without being esoteric, and so comforting.