Review: Beginners

Posted: June 18, 2011 in Film Reviews
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Ewan McGregor in a scene from BeginnersLife is full of ends and beginnings, which means we’re almost always on the verge of one or the other. Beginners is about both of these events as one tends to influence the other until the past and present blend seamlessly.

Oliver (Ewan McGregor) meets the irreverent and unpredictable Anna (Mélanie Laurent) only months after his father Hal (Christopher Plummer) has passed away. This new love floods Oliver with memories of his father who – following 44 years of marriage – came out of the closet at age 75 to live a full, energized, and wonderfully tumultuous gay life. The upheavals of Hal’s new honesty, often funny and moving, brought father and son closer than they’d ever been able to be. Now Oliver endeavours to love Anna with all the bravery, humour, and hope that his father taught him.

Writer-director Mike Mills based this story largely on personal experience as his own widowed father announced he was gay after nearly a half century of marriage. After his death, Mills began writing the screenplay as a method of working through the event. The result is a moving picture about happiness, sadness and life’s funny way of unfolding.

Taking place in 2003, the narrative begins simply with images describing the state of the universe at the time: “This is 2003. This is what the sun looks like, and the stars; this is the president.” The story moves smoothly between the past and present as little things remind Oliver of times gone by, conjuring memories from various points in his life. As a result, we effortlessly explore adult Oliver’s relationship with his newly gay father; child Oliver’s relationship with his distinctive and frustrated mother; and his current budding relationship with Anna.

It’s easy to identify with this film because although you may not have gone through the exact experiences, life’s opening and closing of doors is universal. Its humour comes naturally from all that occurs, including the quirky conversations between Oliver and his father’s dog, Arthur, who occasionally speaks in subtitled asides.

McGregor’s flat American accent matches his character’s deadpan sense of humour and quiet sadness. Laurent, who gained notice in Inglourious Basterds, impresses again. She’s particularly striking during Oliver and Anna’s first meeting, during which she doesn’t speak, expressing herself through hand gestures and doodles in her notepad. However, the standout performance is delivered by Plummer whose key line, “I don’t just want to be theoretically gay, I want to do something about it,” resonates through the remainder of the film. He makes this significant life transition look so easy with his contagious carefree approach to living and dying. Calls for an Oscar nomination have already begun.


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