July 10, 2011
The film was written and directed by Mike Mills and is only his second feature, following 2005's Thumbsucker. I have read that the movie was partially inspired by his own relationship with his father who came out late in life. I do not believe it to be terribly autobiographical aside from that fact, but I do suspect that the process of making the film was a cathartic experience, helping him come to terms with feelings that have built up over time. Of course, I may know nothing, but it really feels like a personal project that was made as much for himself as it was for the public at large.
Beginners is not told in chronological fashion. In that sense I was reminded of (500) Days of Summer, in that it is told more like accessing a memory. Think about how you remember things, you don't go through memories year by year or in any type of logical order. On top of that, memories are not always entirely accurate, little details may be misremembered. This method of storytelling adds a certain charm to the proceedings.
Ewan McGregor plays Oliver. The mam always seems to be sad and alone. He seems unable to get his life started, perpetually stuck in a neutral position which seems to have been induced by his father (Christopher Plummer). His current (of 2003 where the movie is primarily set) is sometime after the death of his father. His friends drag him to a party where he meets Anna (Melanie Laurent of Inglourious Basterds), she cannot speak, but writing on a small notepad the two make a connection.
Oliver is am interesting individual. He certainly cares for his father, does not care that he is homosexual or that he is trying to enter the lifestyle he always knew he was meant to have. The interesting elements arise when he always seems on the verge of sabotaging his own relationships. Realizing the loveless marriage his parents had, Oliver is afraid of commitment.
The relationship between Oliver and Anna is sweet, touching, and somewhat believable. There is am easy chemistry between them that makes you want to spend time with them. They have an affect on each other, even without having a real conversation at first, hey seem to touch on the needs of the other without even trying. Oliver drawing ever closer to that catharsis needed to reconcile his feelings for his father and the feelings towards his parents marriage.
This is a movie that lives and dies by the believability of is relationships. The movie does not exist entirely I'm the realm of reality, but there is a truth in the character interactions that is supported by an intelligent script and sold by strong performances from the central trio of characters.
McGregor embodies a certain listless sadness, sort of a resignation to the life he leads, misunderstood and alone. However, that begins to change a little when he meets Melanie Laurent's character, who is not without her own sadness, but is a beacon of hope, as temporary as it may prove to be. Finally there is Christopher Plummer, he brings a great deal of class to the role of the father. Together they create this black ole o sweetness and heartbreak as you track the direction of their relationships.
Mike Mills has crafted an involving character piece that may no appear to go very far, but if you pay attention you can see a great deal of humanity and change on the characters as they make their way through story. It is a tale that targets an emotional response while never feeling manipulative.
Beginners is sweet and heartbreaking. Like I have said. There is sadness with a side of hope. It shows it is never too late to begin something new.
Posted by Christopher Beaumont at 7/10/2011 10:02:00 PM
Chris has been an avid movie watcher for decades, getting into the writing game in 2004. Since that time he has contributed to a number online publications as well as running CriticalOutcast.com. In addition to movies, Chris is a big fan of music, particularly metal, and will never give up hope on his beloved Mets.