Beginners Naming Moments And Claiming Them Forever
Christopher Plummer as Hal and Ewan McGregor as Oliver, Hal's son, in Mike
Mills' comedy-drama "Beginners".
Omar P.L. Moore/PopcornReel.com
June 10, 2011
Communication, time, space and memory all resolutely define Mike Mills'
comedy-drama "Beginners", a semi-autobiographical story about a man who comes
out of the closet years after his failed marriage only to learn of his terminal
illness. Christopher Plummer is excellent as Hal, a man whose time is
marked, whose existing days are centered around nostalgia and his
30-years-junior boyfriend Andy (Goran Visnjic).
Ewan McGregor plays Oliver, a man trying to understand his father Hal and bond
with him in whatever time they have left. Oliver, a graphic artist
suffering from depression, is a heterosexual trying to get untracked in a
relationship with Anna (Mélanie Laurent), who has issues of her own. Each
of these characters struggles with expression and communication, and Mr. Mills's
screenplay presents these adversities in a distinct literal and visual language,
whether via subtitles, graffiti or written messages. We are treated to
flashbacks that shuttle between the 1950s, 1980s and the present day.
Mr. McGregor narrates "Beginners" solemnly, connecting us as an audience to what
Oliver has internalized throughout the film. Flashbacks of Oliver's mother
(Mary Page Keller) are comical and bitter sweet, punctuated by an occasional
incorrectness that makes her, as fondly remembered by her son, all the more
human. Hal is portrayed a little differently though no less significantly.
Mr. Mills however, makes a mistake in making Andy a cloying, needy gay
caricature that briefly if not intentionally betrays some of the film's sincere
inner monologue and story, or signals safe haven for the heterosexual moviegoer
likely to see this film. "Beginners" is a smart, mature film that is
pulled down a peg when Andy is on screen, becoming inert in those moments.
Some film critics in their reviews have asked, well if Hal knew the truth about
his sexuality then why get married in the first place? It's a valid
question, and life is complex, although there are some gays who have married
straights knowing that it was a mistake. (For example, Elton John had
publically admitted that his seven-year marriage to Renata John was a "selfish"
mistake that should never have happened.)
"Beginners" is a beautiful and sweetly observed film solidly in touch with its
feelings. It bleeds with love and affection. Its characters,
specifically Oliver, open themselves up. Mr. Mills directs the film with
playfulness sometimes, more seriously at others. He employs restraint and
doesn't let "Beginners", obviously very personal to him, spin out of control.
"Beginners" is well-acted by all involved and is sentimental without being
overly so. Most impressively, "Beginners" claims its time, place and
history in such a declarative way that you can't help but be hooked in to the
film's sense of emotion and being.
Ewan McGregor as Oliver and Mélanie
Laurent as Anna in Mike Mills' comedy-drama "Beginners".
I easily identified with Oliver's recollections of life and what it was like in
the 1970s. And though I am straight and wasn't alive in 1950, I got a
sense of Oliver's father's struggles as so poignantly told by his son.
These emotional connections between and amongst characters and with the audience
about what life was like in the film's different eras is the most effective
attribute of "Beginners", which harnesses emotion and feeling in a sensual way
by naming and claiming memories so strongly.
You can reach out and touch these moments as you glimpse them on the big screen.
If these snapshots are precious it's because they mean so much to Oliver as he
assembles the meaning of living and being through his father. By extension
the audience vicariously lives through Oliver's memories as he assembles them in
his life. "Beginners" invites us in to these fascinating characters' lives
and experiences and tells us to enjoy them abundantly. And I did.
Few movies today take the time to graphically or pictorially represent feelings
so well. Images flicker like the comic book sketches Oliver creates.
These are bright images that are alive. "Beginners" does not take life for
granted. The film soaks up each minute of life, reflecting on what makes
life so good and so real. Once Oliver sees the light, the film bursts into
vivid clarity. Mr. Mills' film shifts tonally from muted visions and
classic silent film episodes to sharp, bold imagery and warmth.
"Beginners" is undoubtedly one of the very best films of the year.
As I watched this terrific film I was filled with a joy, certitude and pride in
recalling specific times and places in American history and in my own life.
In giving the viewer the opportunity to make these meaningful connections
valuable "Beginners" is an all-embracing, always-aware experience for universal
With: Kai Lennox, Keegan Boos, China Shavers, Melissa Tang.
"Beginners" is rated R by the Motion Picture Association Of America for
language and some sexual content. The film's running time is one hour and
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