EWAN MCGREGOR CHRISTOPHER PLUMMER MELANIE LAURENT
Likely to be this year's The Kids Are All Right, not because of the gay theme, but because both films have a similar presentation of comedy and drama. Beginners is one of those subtle crowd pleasers that manage to bring some sort of nostalgia to an audience. Much like Kids, Beginners relies heavily on its socially aware, well written screenplay and the multifaceted performances from the well chosen cast. Beginners also has the best dog-costar I have seen in years, even getting his own bit of subtitles. There is a very beautiful love story here between a father and son and the son’s coming to terms with his future life with the woman of his and every man’s dreams.
After the death of his mother (Mary Page Keller), Oliver’s father, 75 year old Hal (Plummer), tells his son he is gay and always has been. Oliver (McGregor), stunned by the news, is accepting of his father, especially when the second part of the shocking news is that he has cancer. Oliver has always been a loner; he's not very good at relationships, but once his father passes away and he is able to reflect on his entire childhood, he finally begins to understand his own social confusion when he meets the beautiful Anna (Laurent). They are drawn to each other at a costume party while she has laryngitis, but they can’t wait to get to know each other.
Beginners is a film that works both forward and backwards at the same time, all involving Oliver at the center. We see him as a young child with his mother as she desperately looked for reasons and situations to release her inner creativity and energy. Those scenes with Keller are short, but provide so much detail and, in some ways, a lot of the comic relief. Keller plays this much attuned mother who was very funky for her time. Then, when it cuts to the interesting end of his father’s life, Oliver seems to be the one of the family who is the least colorful. This is certainly one of McGregor’s best roles, mostly because even in his withdrawn role, he plays this character carefully and honestly.
Plummer (The Insider, Inside Man) will get all the attention as he typically does with each role. It isn’t the kind of flashy role you might expect, but he is certainly a presence and likely our most reasonable best supporting actor contender so far this year. Laurent, who was fascinating in Inglorious Basterds, is just as amazing to watch here, so beautiful and filled with mystery behind her eyes. The screenplay has so many adorable moments between all of the characters that together, they really explain the life and predicament of Oliver. The film is edited unusually, but it is a big factor into the success of the film. If this small film can find it's way into enough theaters this summer, it will certainly have a big audience.
Final Thought – A great script with four charming performances.
By: Dustin Chase W.
Editor: Michael Woody
Dr. Donna Copeland’s
This movie illustrates how denial works in a family and how it ultimately affects a child. A boy named Oliver (Ewan McGregor as the grown man) grows up sensing something is wrong between his parents, but they say everything is fine. The mother is quirky but attentive; the father is absent much of the time. The boy questions his mother about what is wrong, and she plays a game of accusing him of being nosy, but again tells him everything is fine. The parents stay married for years, then the mother dies following a long bout with cancer. Strangely, the father Hal (Christopher Plummer) now seems to come alive and outwardly enjoy life for the first time. He makes some effort to get closer to his son, but his son has learned the lesson of repression very well, and mostly looks at his father in a quizzical way, even though he seems pleased with the changes. The result of the parents’ marital arrangement and suppression of any discussion about it is that the boy grows up to be a very sad, inhibited man who has difficulty maintaining a relationship with a woman. He derives some welcome release from his job as a graphics designer, his empathic co-workers, and clever cartoons he draws depicting the history of sadness over time, and eventually he meets a woman who intrigues him and makes him laugh, and who seems to be a good match for him.
Complexities in the story involve Hal’s pronouncement that he is gay; his diagnosis of terminal cancer; his dog who, along with the Hal’s young lover, are the only two characters who are emotionally expressive; and Oliver’s love interest, Anna (Melanie Laurent).
The story is actually based on the writer-director Mike Mills’ experience growing up in his own family, and this provides a certain degree of authenticity. Mills stated in a recent NPR interview that “There was this strange loneliness that went unspoken, that went undiscussed but very much felt by me as a kid.” (http://www.npr.org/2011/06/02/136499797/beginners-a-sons-love-letter-to-his-gay-father?ps=cprs) The story is suffused with this mood throughout, sometimes creating disquiet in the viewer. Thankfully, humorous and charming bits arise from time to time that keep the story from being too dark.
The film is slow moving, and I think would have benefited from shortening scenes in which not much is happening and filling out and giving more depth to significant events. The screen and sound quality of the theater where I saw the film may be part of the problem. The projector needed a better bulb (many of the scenes were so dark it was hard to see the action) and the volume turned up (audience coughing and laughter masked some of the dialog).
Donna R. Copeland