Beginners imaginatively explores the hilarity, confusion, and surprises of love through the evolving consciousness of Oliver (Golden Globe Award nominee Ewan McGregor). Oliver meets the irreverent and unpredictable Anna (Melanie Laurent of Inglourious Basterds) only months after his father Hal Fields (Academy Award nominee Christopher Plummer) has passed away.
This new love floods Oliver with memories of his father, who, following the death of his wife of 45 years, came out of the closet at age 75 to live a full, energized, and wonderfully tumultuous gay life â which included a younger boyfriend, Andy (Goran Visnjic of "ER"). The upheavals of Hal's new honesty, by turns funny and moving, brought father and son closer than they'd ever been able to be. Now Oliver endeavors to love Anna with all the bravery, humor, and hope that his father taught him.
Beginners is an odd little love story. Ewan McGregor (Obi-Wan Kenobi from the Star Wars prequels) is Oliver, a sad young graphic artist who has just had two big bombs dropped on him. The first big shock is that his father Hal (played by the legendary Christopher Plummer) has announced that he is gay, and has been for his entire life. The second is that Hal also has terminal cancer. Oliver struggles to come to terms with his father's impending death and newly reborn homosexuality while dealing with the fact that Hal's marriage to Oliver's dead mother was a sham. That much alone would be enough for anyone to have trouble digesting. Poor Oliver's life gets even more complicated when he finally meets Anna (Inglourious Basterds' Melanie Laurent), who, after several failed relationships, he believes may be the girl of his dreams. Beginners is Oliver's story of relating to his father, during his life and after his death while trying to relate to Anna at the same time.
The film is mostly told through flashbacks. Oliver looks back at his father's final days and gathers clues about who he was and how that differs from who Oliver thought he was. The audience is introduced both to Oliver's mother, Georgia (Television actress Mary Page Keller) and Hal's boyfriend Andy (Goran Visnjic from "E.R."). Through memories of his mother and father and father's boyfriend, Oliver learns why he may have so much trouble relating to the people in his life. The flashbacks are effective â without them, Beginners is a simple boy-meets-girl story â but confusing at times, as the film jumps back and forth between the past and present very quickly and suddenly without any prompting or warning. The time-juggling leaves the whole package feeling a little disjointed.
Beginners is written by Mike Mills (Thumbsucker), who also directs. For the most part, it is well written. The laughs are there, the tears are there and the cheers are there. The thing that's missing is conflict. The main conflict is between Oliver and himself, and there really isn't enough of it to stay interesting for very long. Oliver was sad before his father dies, and he's sad after his father dies. There isn't any huge awakening or epiphany in Beginners after the announcement that Hal is gay. Oliver copes with his father's death but doesn't ever show evidence of changing because of it. In the end, Beginners is about figuring out where you came from and where you're going, and staying true to who you are along the way.
The acting in Beginners is top-notch. McGregor's Oliver captures the sadness and uncertainty of a child who is facing the loss of a parent perfectly. Plummer is great as the optimistic Hal, always the life of the party, even from his death bed. The two together are a great yin-yang of happiness and sorrow. The beautiful Anna is played amazingly by Laurent. She embodies all of the confusion of a new relationship with someone who has just gone through the death of a parent. The real scene-stealer in the movie is Cosmo, the dog who plays Hal's Jack Russell terrier Arthur who is inherited by Oliver. Cosmo is the most effective understated actor working today. Add in the above-average performances of Keller and Visnjic, and Beginners has an exceptional cast.
June 3, 2011