Posts Tagged ‘Beginners’

Beginners Movie Review

Caught a film in NYC last night: Mike Mills’ Beginners.  Christopher Plummer plays a recently widowed septuagenarian who comes out of the closet after his wife dies.  Ewan McGregor plays his son, who must deal not only with this radical news, but also with his father being terminally ill with cancer.

I must confess, I was expecting some lighthearted romp where Captain Von Trapp channeled The Birdcage with end-of-life verve and camp, while young Obi Wan stood by and somehow managed to deal.  How wrong I was.  This is no Apatow concept movie (which I also enjoy), but a heart-wrenching encounter that had little to do with Plummer’s emergence, and everything to do with the emotional stunting of McGregor’s character as a result of his parents, despite being true to each other, fostering a household devoid of emotional warmth as a result of not being, in the physical sense, lovers.  This emotional stunting is the centerpiece of the film.

The visual style is a whimsical departure from the ordinary, reminiscent of Savage Steve Holland, minus the anarchy.  Director Mills’ background as a graphic artist serves him well.  Isolation plagues the characters: the mother as a young Jewish girl in the 30s, the father as a closeted gay man for most of his life, and the son, McGregor, as a close to middle-age adult whose expectations of the attainability of a loving partnership are nonexistent and therefore a self fulfilling prophecy.  This isolation is fleshed out through pithy visual editorials, combining brief graphic imagery with voiceovers drenched in melancholy.  Mills excels at these expositions.

All of the characters are quirky and intriguing, and I had to remind myself that this was taking place in Los Angeles, because the film is devoid of the all-too-often seen movie assumption that LA is a town virally infected by the show business industry.  Refreshingly, LA is not a character in this movie.  At least that viral infection is in remission.

Christopher Plummer’s character is a beginner in the sense of his new social life, and he embarks on that journey without much cliché.  However, the meat of the matter is the McGregor character’s introspection, and whether he will surrender to the shackles of his life experience.  He is a beginner in the sense of living a fully realized life.

Melanie Laurent (most famous in the States for her turn in Inglourious Bastards) plays McGregor’s love interest.  She is an ethereal pixie encased in her own idiosyncratic isolation.

This film is devastating in its unflinching view of its characters, and the death of a father from cancer was, for me, so close to home that I forced back my burgeoning tears.  In the end, I was angry with myself for forcing back those tears, and I felt in doing so I did a disservice to the fine cast and their director.  Alas, more viral than show business in movies about LA, in the real world, is emotional stunting.

Beginners is an intelligent yet doleful gem of a movie.