Director: Mike Mills
Major players: Ewan McGregor, Christopher Plummer
Out of five? 3.5
I’m a latecomer to Beginners, if that doesn’t sound too pretentious. Somehow I missed out on it last year but Christopher Plummer’s Oscar winning performance has given it a new lease of life (more than a little appropriate considering his character in the film) and it’s had a limited re-release, so I managed to catch it second time around.
It follows Oliver (Ewan McGregor) in his attempts to come to terms with the death of his father (Plummer), a man who came out as gay in his mid-70s and seized his remaining few years with both hands. He inherits his father’s dog, Arthur, who always seems to know what he’s thinking and, at much the same time, falls in love with actress Anna (Melanie Laurent), a relationship that falters and nearly falls apart. Woven into this is a sub-plot, in which Oliver’s initially superficial understanding of his parents’ relationship deepens as he starts to grasp the reality of their love.
It’s a sad film, touching rather than miserable: all the characters have their own reasons to be sad, from Oliver in mourning to his father’s boyfriend, Andy (Goran Visnjic) who feels he has been ostracised after his lover’s death and has to cope alone. But it has a gentle humour too, generated mainly by the characters themselves and, inevitably, Arthur, whose subtitles are wonderfully articulate. You have to feel for Ewan McGregor in their scenes together: he doesn’t stand a chance!
Set mainly in 2003, the film moves backwards and forwards between then and the mid-60s, when we see Oliver as a young boy and his memories of his parents. Scenes from his early years are occasionally dropped into the middle of contemporary ones and, while this is reasonably successful as a device to show us what he’s thinking at the time, it gives the film a jerky quality and is more than a little distracting.
Beginners is like thumbing through a photo album of somebody’s life – and, indeed, photography and art play a great part in it. It’s well acted by its cast but, ultimately, is dominated by Plummer, whether he’s on screen or not. Right from the first scene where Oliver finds his father’s profile for a gay dating site, you know that this is a man who does not look back and you want to applaud the joy with which he embraces what is his real life.
If you want to see Beginners, your best bet is DVD. It benefits from being shown in a smaller screening room, so it’s a good one to watch at home. Just make sure you have a box of tissues nearby. You probably won’t blub – but you may just have a sniffle.
A podcast version of this article is now available to download at: http://www.cyberears.com/index.php/Show/audio/5984