Director: Mike Mills
Writer: Mike Mills
Cast: Ewan McGregor, Christopher Plummer, Mélanie Laurent, Goran Visnjic, Kai Lennox, Mary Page Keller, Keegan Boos, China Shavers, Melissa Tang, Amanda Payton, Luke Diliberto, Lou Taylor Pucci, Bambadjan Bamba, Hana Jane, Samuel T. Ritter
Synopsis: It's 2003. Thirty-eight year old graphic artist Oliver Fields has just lost his father Hal Fields to cancer, after Oliver's mother Georgia Fields passed away five years earlier. Oliver is naturally a sullen man due to his growing up relationship with his parents (his mother who had a unique view on life) and watching his parents' cordial but somewhat distant relationship with each other, but is more so now because of his personal family loss. Oliver embarks on a relationship with Anna, a French actress. Oliver is hoping that his re-energized relationship with Hal following Georgia's death and Hal's new outlook on life during that time will show Oliver how to act in a loving relationship. After Georgia's death, Hal came out of the closet and began to live with a joie de vivre that did not exist before, which included an open relationship with a much younger man named Andy...
MPAA Rating: Rated R for language and some sexual content
Sometimes it takes a few tragedies in one's life to learn how to love...
"Beginners" is a common tale about the basic concepts of love and loss, while learning to love again. The movie was originally released around 2010 up in Canada, but it was re-released in the United States in 2011. Although "Beginners" suffers from being a relatively obscure film, it's actually quite good, and it tells a valuable story about how you're never too old to start all over again with your life. In the year 2003, a thirty eight year old graphic artist named Oliver Fields (Ewan McGregor) loses his father, Hal (Christopher Plummer), to cancer. To make matters worse, this incident happened about five years after his mother, Georgia (Mary Page Keller), passed away.
Oliver is a lost soul if you will, as he suffers from his inability to emotionally connect with anyone. Sure, he can still fall in love like any of us, but he suffers with various issues concerning commitment. Although they do lightly gloss over a few past relationships that Oliver had in his life before all this drama, but most of his issues seem to stem back to when he was a child. Back then, his mother had her own unique view of the world, and his father was rarely ever present in his life. His parents were always emotionally distant from each other, as he recalls various accounts that his mom used to complain about the lack of caring she ever felt from her husband.
However, he never judges his father harshly for never being there for him or his mother at all, when he was a child, as he loves them both unconditionally. After Oliver's mother dies, Hal decides it's time to start being true to his nature, and tell his son that he's gay. And by gay, I'm not talking about gay as in happy either. No, Hal confesses to his son that he's always been gay as far as he can remember, and wishes to live out his final years being true to who he is. It's from here, Hal ends up fully embracing his gay lifestyle by joining a gay book book club, partaking in the infamous "gay pride" parade, and he even manages to date a much younger man named Andy, who seems genuinely too good to be true. For the next few years, Hal seems relatively happy with his new found lifestyle, but he finds out that he has cancer. Therefore, this new found happiness that he attains is only short lived.
Fast forward after Hal's death, Oliver inherits his father's dog which happens to be a Jack Russell terrier. Although none of the characters can understand the dog, but he does speak in subtitles throughout the film. Making observations that any sane normal person would make if they were witnessing such a situation transpire in front of them. Don't get me wrong, the movie isn't told through the dog's perspective if that's what you're thinking, but it does serve as sort of an interesting plot device.
Oliver wallows in his own self pity and despair, as he can't help but feel saddened by the loss of both his parents in such a short amount of time. However, that doesn't stop his friends from encouraging him to attend various social gatherings if only to forget about his emotional woes. Unfortunately, it doesn't seem to work though. One night at a costume party, Oliver attends wearing a Sigmund Freud costume, while taking his dog with him. He tries to act like he's having a good time, but anyone with a keen eye for observation can clearly sees that he's not. Needless to say, this attracts the attention of a beautiful young French actress, Anna (Mélanie Laurent), to him, as she can't help but wonder why he's so sad. Although when they first meet, she's unable to talk because of her laryngitis, so she's forced to communicate through writing down things on her notepad with him.
After spending the night together, they instantly seem to hit it off, as she tries desperately the ease the sadness in his heart. Throughout the movie, it constantly shifts back and forth between various time periods to give the audience a clearer perspective on things. One moment it shifts back all way to his childhood, as he recalls his mother complaining how neglectful Hal was to her, but somehow still happy that she at least had the love of her son. Then in another moment, the movie will shift back to where Hal and Oliver spend a great deal of time together, after he comes out of the closet. In these moments, we see Hal not only fully embracing his life for the first time, as he puts it, but we also see Oliver trying to be very supportive of his father's new lifestyle; while even trying to comfort him during the down years, when he was terminally ill with cancer.
And of course in other moments, it shifts back to the present where it shows the ongoing relationship between Anna and Oliver. Although the two might seem like a perfect couple, Oliver cannot bring himself to ever fully commit to her. Why you may ask? Because he feels in his heart that no matter how well things are with them that it'll never work out in the end; even though Anna does go above and beyond to be supportive of him, yet even she wonders if her love alone will ever be good enough to ease the sadness in his heart. Sometimes Oliver wonders if being thirty eight years old means that he's too old to find love, or find happiness in his life. However, if there's one strong underlining message to this movie, it's that you're never too old to find love in your life, or start your life over again to find happiness. Hell, Oliver's father is a perfect example of this. Hal is in his mid seventies, yet he's not afraid to fully start over again to live his life. Therefore, if he wasn't too old to start over, then why should Oliver feel that he's too old to start over as well with his life?
Indeed, the film touches upon many concepts of life about the tragedy of dealing with love and loss; while teaching it's audience that it's never too late to start over again to find happiness in one's life. As Roger Ebert alluded to in his review, there is some questionable decisions made by Hal in his life though; which makes this movie lack a bit of logic. No, it has nothing to do with him choosing to be gay. In the film, it's revealed that not only did Hal know he was gay since he was fourteen, but even his own wife, Georgia knew about it too. In fact, according to Hal, Georgia practically begged him to marry her, as she claimed she could fix him, and he agreed saying "I'll try anything." But why put on the facade for so long? Sure, I can buy into him wanting to marry her because he probably felt the pressures of society at the time. Plus, I can even buy into them pretending to love each other for so long for Oliver's sake, when he was a boy. However, once he moved out of the house, then why did they continue this facade though? Was it out of some moral sense of obligation? Was Georgia unconditionally in love with Hal to the point that she didn't care whether or not he would never be physically attracted to her? Did Hal just feel too guilty about leaving her? Was it because Hal still feared the pressures of society to be straight, and didn't come to realize how relatively short life was until his wife died? Unfortunately, none of these questions are ever addressed, as she ends up dying in a loveless marriage that was sort of a sham to begin with.
As for the acting performances, I thought all the actors played their parts rather well. I especially liked the chemistry between Ewan McGregor and Mélanie Laurent, as they definitely fed off each quite well, and they genuinely seemed like a real couple; which is something that most romantic comedies struggle with. Both of them were full of their own flaws, but still open to being supportive of each other. As for Christopher Plummer, I can easily see why he was nominated for this role; outside of the obvious political reasons. However, I don't know if I would go on record to say this is his best performance that I've seen from him, but he definitely carries his role quite well to the point that you can never quite bring yourself to hate him; in spite of some of his shortcomings.
Overall, I thought the film was fairly well told, and I like how it was edited to where it constantly shifts between the time periods of Oliver's life, as it gives the audience a much clearer perspective on his life as it plays out. Although I should warn people, this film isn't for the faint of heart. However, I would say this is arguably one of the best romantic comedies that I've ever seen since "500 Days of Summer." It's definitely worth checking out at a rating of three and a half out of four. If only all romantic comedies could be this well told, then I'd probably die a happy man myself..