Smart and bittersweet Beginners stars Christopher Plummer as a 75-year-old gay man who has just come out to his son Oliver (Ewan McGregor). Two parallel love stories are told.
Plummer won Best Supporting Actor for his role.
Plummer parties on
He may be late for the party, but Hal celebrates like it’s 1955. Plummer gives a vintage performance as a man who married for love while smothering his sexual orientation.
Beginners is masterfully directed and written by Mike Mills, whose own father came out late in life. Explored are the connections between father and son, father and new friends, son and father’s boyfriend, and son and girlfriend.
This is a film of visual grace with a sensitive, vulnerable and thoughtful quality.
Cancer threatens Hal
Fun-loving yet dignified Hal is diagnosed with cancer. The last few months of his life are reenacted with whimsy and directness, accompanied by Vaudeville tunes.
“I don’t want to just be theoretically gay. I want to do something about it,” Hal says. As friends visit his sunny sickroom, he claims he’s getting better.
Oliver adopts Arthur
Patterns, shapes and forms represent life and love. After Hal’s death, Oliver adopts Arthur, a Jack Russell terrier who is more philosophical than most people. As Oliver talks with the dog, Arthur replies in subtitles. Their true friendship weaves low-key humor throughout the film.
Sex. Nature. Images of the sun, the sky and presidents past and present fill the screen. Oliver sketches faces of old girlfriends with captions.
When a rock band The Sads orders an album cover, Oliver creates an introspective sketch book. Sadness is unique for everyone. The graphic artist savors it and learns.
Oliver meets Anna
As Oliver begins seeing French actress Anna (Melanie Laurent, the theater owner in Inglourious Basterds), McGregor reveals insecurity and wisdom. The two meet at a costume party not long after Hal’s death.
He’s Sigmund Freud. She’s Charlie Chaplin. He’s depressed. She has laryngitis. Playful and tentative, they explore each other and the world.
Hal’s first real romance
Oliver tells Anna about his father. “For the first time I saw him really in love.”
Goran Visnjic is dark, intense and boyish as Hal’s young lover Andy. Hal must learn some new customs when Andy goes out on a date. “At least I’m the Number One boyfriend,” Hal tells Oliver wistfully.
Forgiving the past
A scene between Oliver and Andy after Hal’s death is particularly moving.
Simple yet deep, Beginners discovers despair, emptiness and happiness. It’s deep, reflective characters will stay with you. (5 out of 5 stars)
If you like Beginners, you might enjoy: Barney’s Version.
Beginners 2011 / R / 1 hour, 44 min
Cast Overview: Ewan McGregor, Christopher Plummer, Melanie Laurent, Goran Visnjic, Kai Lennox, Mary Page Keller
Director: Mike Mills
Genre: Drama, Indie, Romance