Beginners

15 Jun

Title: Beginners
Year: 
2011
Director: 
Mike Mills
Writer: Mike Mills
Starring: 
Ewan McGregor, Christopher Plummer, Mélanie Laurent, Goran Visnjic
MPAA Rating: 
R, language and some sexual content
Runtime: 
105 min
Major Awards: –

IMDb Rating: 
7.1
Rotten Tomatoes: 
87%

 

I was really looking forward to Beginners, the story seemed really original, and the cast was Ewan McGregor, Christopher Plummer and Mélanie Laurent, all actors I seriously like. Director Mike Mills, who’s only other feature film was 2005’s Thumbsucker, also wrote this, inspired by a story extremely personal to him, as his own father came out of the closet after his wife of 44 years, with whom he had fathered three children, passed away. So we see Mr. McGregor sort of playing Mr. Mills, a man who has his father, played by Mr. Plummer, come out of the closet during the twilight of his life to live an active social life as a gay man, and what we get from that has to be one of the best and most affectionate portraits of homosexuality ever to be presented on screen.

The performances here are just sublime, and they are the ones that elevate this movie to the heights it manages to so excellently reach, and you really get the sense with the direction of Mr. Mills that this one genuinely came from the heart, and it’s certainly the most personal film to have come out all year, the tale he crafts here is just beautifully told. Mr. Plummer is obviously the one that steals the movie as the freshly-out man, he gets some seriously spectacular material to work with here, and next to him there’s Mr. McGregor delivering a performance of less juicy material, but he matches Mr. Plummer every step of the way, and Ms. Laurent is truly wonderful here as well, and looks as beautiful as ever, and her chemistry with Mr. McGregor is amongst the best we’ve seen on screen this year. Every performance just feels so natural and organic, and that’s because Mr. Mills drawing from his own experience managed to find the perfect tone for every single moment in this film, not every making it feel overly self-conscious, which lesser involved director easily would have.

Because, really, imagine being Oliver, Mr. McGregor’s character. You’re a man with a lot of issues of your own, your commitment issues and fear of failure have never really enabled you to be in a serious relationship even though you’re nearing 40. And with those inner dealings you have your father, a widow of six months, coming out of the closet to you at age 75. It’s really a very peculiar situation we get, with these two men, father and son, embarking on their own very distinct journeys to try and find love. There’s also a dog in the film, Arthur, who gets a very cool role in this film and who just might be amongst the men in this movie the man that has things the most figured out. Arthur isn’t a cheap device, by the way, he’s not your typically annoying talking dog, he communicates via subtitles and actually provides a really neat perspective for us as an audience, yet another factor in this film that Mr. Mills absolutely nailed.

I cannot convey just much I enjoyed the chemistry between the actors of this film, the father-son bond that forms between Mr. McGregor and Mr. Plummer is truly phenomenal to watch develop. When Mr. McGregor was on a recent late night talkshow to promote the film he recounted his first meeting with Mr. Plummer, a legendary actor he no doubt really respected, and how Mr. Mills, in order to instill some chemistry between the two who had never met, told Mr. McGregor to take Mr. Plummer out for a shopping spree. The result was Mr. Plummer learning about skinny jeans, which Mr. McGregor was wearing at the time, and buying a lot of them at the store. I liked that anecdote because it shows on screen, you really feel their connection, you feel the joy and pride with which Hal, the dad, tells Oliver that he’s gay, and it’s truly sensational to see how it goes from there. And how it goes beyond that, as we also get to see what happens after Hal’s death, and we also get to see how it went before that, with flashbacks to Oliver’s childhood.

It’s a beautiful film, because it was made with love, I cannot stress enough just how much you feel the passion that Mike Mills embedded on a project marked largely by his own experience with his father. And how Mr. Plummer made this role, of man who had always known he was gay and was just coming out of the closet in the final stages of his life, is a wonderful thing to behold. The voice of Mr. Plummer is obviously one of the greatest voices in cinema, one that brings to mind the presence this great actor has on screen, and the presence is deeply felt in how Hal so fully embraces his new lifestyle, getting a boyfriend in Andy (played by ER‘s Goran Visnjic), loving the new music he discovers in gay clubs, it’s just really great to watch the new-found happiness by Hal, who once it becomes clear he’s approaching death you get the feeling is at least comfortable with it because he now has nothing to hide.

Then there’s Oliver’s relationship with Anna, the character played by the gorgeous Ms. Laurent, whom he meets a costume party which he attends dressed as Freud and she attends even though she’s suffering from laryngitis, which gives way for a meet-cute that’s as charming as the rest of the film, with her having to scribble down her words in a notepad, and since that first scene of flirtatious we get to see a very cool relationship develop. As I said, the relationship that blossoms with Mr. McGregor and Ms. Laurent is just wonderful, and you get to see Oliver trying to apply to this relationship, the one that had eluded him so, all the lessons he learned from his father who late in his life had taught him so much about love and how to live life to the fullest. Beginners is without a doubt one of the very best films of the year, one that came from a very personal place and that in Ms. Laurent found a gorgeous woman to convey so much, in Mr. Plummer found a screen legend to have the time of his life and give a terrific and graceful performance and in Mr. McGregor found the perfect actor to hold it all together ever so seamlessly, embedding in Oliver the best amount of charm possible that made it so easy for us to follow him through his life’s journey.

Grade: A-

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