Directed by Mike Mills
Mary Page Keller
This film follows Oliver (Ewan McGregor) as he struggles to maintain a long-term relationship after growing up with two parents whose marriage was loving but distant. Oliver is 38 – his mother Georgia (Mary Page Keller) died five years ago and after her death his father Hal (Christopher Plummer) came out as an openly gay man. He admitted to Oliver that he’d always been gay through his whole marriage to Oliver’s mother. Soon after Hal comes out, he’s diagnosed with cancer. This film takes place in Oliver’s present day life (2003), soon after the death of his father and just as he starts a new relationship with French actress Anna (Mélanie Laurent). Through flashbacks we’re shown the previous five years of Hal & Oliver’s relationship and we see how Oliver dealt with his father’s now openly gay lifestyle and young new boyfriend (played by Goran Višnjić) & his father’s declining health.
This is a lovely film. Christopher Plummer won the Best Supporting Actor Oscar for this role & I’m happy to say that it was well deserved. It was great to see Hal enjoying the freedom to finally be himself. Even after being diagnosed with cancer he doesn’t let it stop him using the chance to now fully embrace life & accept being (and be accepted for) the person he’s always been. Goran Višnjić is fine as Hal’s boyfriend but the real focus of the movie is the relationship between Hal & his son Oliver. They grow much closer in the last five years of Hal’s life as Hal can now be fully honest with his son. Their relationship is equally heartwarming & heartbreaking as we know from the start of the movie that Hal has already passed away.
In present day, Oliver is talked into going to a party with his friends. It takes a bit of convincing & it’s obvious that Oliver is very sad & “lost” after his father’s passing. At the party he meets free spirit Anna, a French actress who also has trouble maintaining steady relationships as her job keeps her from staying in any one place for very long. They start a relationship which is great at first but turns more sad & distant as things become more serious. Through some further flashbacks we’re shown Oliver as a young boy (12ish?) and his mother Georgia. We can see that she’s another kooky free spirit, as is Anna, but she’s also very clearly sad & lonely after being in a marriage with someone who can never truly love her in the way a husband should. I’d have liked to have seen a bit more of the flashbacks with Oliver’s mother – I thought these flashbacks were very good & helped in a way to even better explain why Oliver now has such trouble with his relationships. The only time we see his parents together are in these flashbacks and we’re only ever shown his father giving his mother a brief kiss on his way to work, much in the sort of way you’d kiss a friend. There aren’t many of these flashbacks with Georgia but they’re simple & very effective.
Although, yes, this movie is very sad it does have some humor in it. It’s a very “quirky” drama. Some of this quirkiness was good but some of it didn’t quite work for me – it felt too “forced”. One of Oliver’s best friends is his dad’s dog, adopted by Oliver after his dad’s death. He’s a cute Jack Russell and he talks. Don’t worry – not in a Bruce Willis, Look Who’s Talking voice! And his mouth doesn’t move or anything – he’s just subtitled. It’s not that often and not too terribly annoying but I did find it a little distracting. Oliver also has a couple of friends (the ones who drag him to the party) who are charming but perhaps also a little too quirky. They all go on little graffiti sprees and spray paint random deep & meaningful sayings that are a little too abstract and not actually all that deep & meaningful. And of course Anna is quirky and Oliver & Hal’s boyfriend are both a little bit quirky. I know I’m using the word quirky a lot but my point is that the movie tries a little too hard to be quirky. It’s not over the top, though – it didn’t bother me too much. I just preferred the more straight forward stuff in this.
All this quirkiness felt sort of necessary, though, as it could have been a far too depressing movie without it. Oliver & Anna’s relationship starts out great – I loved them together and really bought into their relationship. But as it gets more serious and Anna gets more & more sad & withdrawn it gets a little too depressing. Anna’s reasons for remaining so distant from people aren’t explored as in-depth as Oliver’s so it’s harder to relate to her at the end. She’s an absolutely beautiful French actress and, aside from a little bit about a suicidal father who’s too dependent on her emotionally, it’s hard to see why she’d be so unhappy. Gorgeous. Having sex with Ewan McGregor. Totally can’t relate to that! 😉 Seriously, I think she’s stunning. Look at those eyes:
Beginners is a lovely drama about relationships and how love, which should be simple, can be so complex. The quirkiness is a little bit forced but not in a way that ruins what’s a charming film. The female characters of Anna & Georgia are a little underdeveloped but I guess that’s to be expected as this is more about the father & son. The relationship between Ewan McGregor’s Oliver & Mélanie Laurent’s Anna is sweet & I enjoyed watching it develop but the focus of the movie and what really makes it worthwhile is the relationship between Oliver & his father, Christopher Plummer’s Hal. It’s an equalling heartwarming & heartbreaking film. There’s a shot of Hal smiling at Oliver after a nurse has put some mousse in Hal’s hair & this really summed up the feeling of the movie and how bittersweet life can be.
My Rating: 7.5/10