Movie Review – Beginners
August 11, 2011 2 Comments
So my laziness got the best of me and delayed my review of Beginners. It’s not that I wasn’t excited to write about this movie, but more so that I had a lot going on. During my laziness, I did get an opportunity to see it for a second time, which had me reflect on my original review. A few articles back I talked about my disdain for Romantic films, calling them formulaic and predictable. It’s either this big sweeping epic of a love story or the standard we are together, now we aren’t together, and then we get back together in the end. This jaded view might be because there are so many romantic comedies starring Kate Hudson, Katherine Heigel, Sandra Bullock, or some other slew of women or men for that instance that go through the acts of falling in love. The thing is, most romance are designed for women, I mean guys can enjoy a thoughtful romance movie as well. I like a good story and fascinating chemistry between two actors, just give me something other than the typical love tropes. I think I gravitated towards Beginners because of the trailer. Ewan McGregor, Christopher Plummer and Mélanie Laurent along with a lovable dog all involved in a quirky comedy that deals with start of love and the start of life. You know, also having Mike Mills directing the movie will get me into the theater as well.
Mike Mills gives and fractured story about Oliver (Ewan McGregor) coming to terms with the loss of his father and the start of a new relationship with Anna (Mélanie Laurent). Along with his new relationship, he reflects about the loss of his mother Georgia (Mary Page Keller) and when his father Hal (Christopher Plummer) came out as being gay shortly after the death of his wife. Through two story lines, we view the ending and discovery of a man who Oliver thought he knew, and the end and beginning of a new relationship.
One of the biggest things that a romantic comedy or romance movie in general needs more than anything, are characters that you can connect with. Yeah they are generally pretty white people having trouble finding love cause I assume they are all so white and pretty. Beginners, while still being about pretty white people with relationship woes, seem a bit more genuine than other romantic movies. Chalk this up to the cast though with the ever amazing Christopher Plummer playing the newly free-spirited father Hal. This is one of his most entertaining roles I have seen him in, as he plays the out of the closet Hal with a wonderful demeanor and teenage like excitement about being a free gay man. But while his character goes through a lot of pain and anguish, there is always this smile and glimmer of happiness in his eyes as he is able to rediscover a life he had to keep hidden. It’s not to say that he wasn’t a good husband or a good father, it’s just that his character was never able to really be himself, so this is why we get the scene where he comes out to Oliver and then his story line is about Oliver rediscovering who his father really is.
While Hal and Oliver deal with one story line, Oliver, played by Ewan McGregor is beginning a new relationship and internalizing his relationship with his father. Ewan is charming, but damaged in the movie. You glimpse into his past love life and find that he inevitably accepts that they are destined to fail, whether by his hand or just the natural progression of falling apart. His sorrow is genuine, but the eventual maturity that his relationship with Hal and Anna takes seems so natural. I sympathize with Oliver and try to place myself in his shoes, even if to imagine hooking up with Mélanie Laurent. Now her character, Anna, very whimsical with her own hidden past. The two characters seemed destined for one another. Anna also has father issues and her relationship with her father is strained, but no effort to make a resolution. Her situation is what Oliver’s’ is destined to become unless he finds away to accept what has happened in his life. Anna brings out the best in Oliver, maturing him along the way, but keeping him distant as her past relationships are much like Oliver’s. Her character is an actress, so she uses this as a means to have fleeting moments and never developing into something more.
All three characters were wonderful and engaging on-screen. You can, in some way, relate to their feelings about love and the hardships each face in terms of their father and with one another. There is one true breakout star of the movie and that is the dog Cosmo. As a dog owner, I loved the relationship and interaction that the dog had with Ewan and Christopher. There is this hidden subtext about the dog in relation to what the characters are going through and that the dog will love unconditionally. No matter the owner, no matter the circumstances, Cosmo or Arthur in the movie, speaks in subtitles and relays the feelings of the audience in a simplistic manner. He has insightful observations about Oliver and Anna, sighs begrudgingly about how much of a dolt Oliver is about his life and shows unconditional love. Also being a cute dog doesn’t hurt either.
This is Mike Mills second film to date, with Thumbsucker being the first debut film, and Beginners is sort of this extension of the first film. Thumbsucker dealt with a more coming of age tale where the young man in the movie experiments with life’s pleasure and sins, but ultimately about coming to understand what you truly want. Beginners holds true to that idea of Thumbsuckers as the characters essentially come of age again. They mature in the movie, some more than others, but it is dealing with having to stop and start life again and again. We begin a new relationship, begin a new chapter in our life, begin a new friendship and begin to learn about who we are or who other people are.
The story of the movie is a bit fractured, as there are two story lines happening at the same time and Mills jumps back and forth between the stories. Sometimes they interweave with one another, but each story runs parallel with one another as each begins at the start of a new understanding and relationship. This story device fits wonderfully with the movie as each story comes to their conclusion at the same time. The story lines complement one another as you get Oliver connecting with his father once again after he comes out of the closet and Oliver’s relationship with Anna and how he hopes that this won’t end like all the rest. I think Mike Mills created a delightful and touching story that we can relate to, while keeping little touches of humor and lightheartedness interspersed throughout the movie.
I won’t talk much about the visual as the movie is very minimalistic, but gorgeous to look at. There is one particular visual ploy that the director uses to set up an understanding of the time in which each character has lived in. We get a voice over narration and slide show of pictures that relate to a certain period of time. In the trailer you hear Oliver talk about the time his father told him he was gay by recalling what the stars looked like, who the president was, what the sun looked like in 2003 and then shows us the same things during the time that his father and mother were married. It is a device that is meant to give a back story about the beginning of their lives and memories. It is used very well, especially when Oliver explains a bit more about the relationship between his mother and father. Hal had to keep his true self a secret during the 50s, when homosexuality can get you thrown in jail and the still images of that moment in time explains to us why he did what he did. I admit it is a bit hard to explain this narrative, visual device so go see it.
This is, at its heart, a movie about starting over. Not just about falling in love, although it does make you want to go home to your loved one and hug them, but it’s about understanding life and the little nuances that make up your life. Oliver was a lost soul, even more confused than most since his dad admitted he was gay the whole time him and his wife were married. It resets your life in a way that you have to learn about someone you grew up with and raised you, all over again. But while we have to begin a new relationship with someone who we thought we knew, we start a new with someone we want to know more about. Anna and Oliver start their relationship essentially psychoanalyzing one another and embark on a whimsical relationship that has each character discovering love and themselves over the course of their time together.
Everyone heals together in the movie. Hal learns to love again and be himself after being closed off to his true self for so long. Oliver begins a new chapter in his life with Hal and Anna, only to come to the conclusion about both relationships in the tail end of the movie. Oliver says one line in the movie that encapsulates all the feelings we have when watching this movie and the feelings of someone in love. This is a bit of a spoiler, but not really I think, where Oliver goes back to see his fathers boyfriend, long after he has passed and Oliver is questioned as to why he never came back to see him. Oliver explains that the reason he never came to see him after Hal passed was, “Because he loved you so much.” It was the line that made Oliver realize and accept that this was his father’s life. No more anguish, no more questioning life, it was just that he loved. That closure means that his relationship with Anna can begin again, because he does truly love her.
Try and go see this movie if you can. While it might be sappy and more romantic than you might be accustomed to, the story is beautiful and touching. I found myself moved by what I was seeing and the interactions between Oliver, Anna, Hal and Arthur seemed so natural. As a follow-up to his first movie, Mike Mills crafted and touching film that explains the stop and start of our lives. We will always have to begin something new in our lives. Whether it is a new friendship, new love, or new life, it is the way that life constantly changes on us that forces us to begin to change with it. Nothing stays the same and I think watching this made me reflect on that notion and learn to be open to begin anew.