Beginners (2010)






THE SCOOP

Director:  Mike Mills
Cast:  Ewan McGregorChristopher PlummerMélanie Laurent 
Plot:  A young man is rocked by two announcements from his elderly father: that he has terminal cancer, and that he has a young male lover.

Genre:  Comedy / Drama
Awards:  Won 1 Oscar - Best Supporting Actor.
Runtime:  105min
Rating:  R21 for language and some sexual content.

IN RETROSPECT (Spoilers: NO)
Beginners is a strange film to begin with. It is unconventional in its narrative structure, the way it delivers key themes to the audience, and its all-too-casual style mixed with bouts of seriousness that doesn’t work as well as intended. Beginners is a film whose ideas and visual style need to be explicated for the sake of audiences who would probably go into a theater screening this with something else in mind. The film looks to be marketed as a heartfelt comedy, but it is neither truly heartfelt nor comedic.

Directed by Mike Mills, whose debut feature Thumbsucker (2005) won Best Actor and was nominated for the Golden Bear at Berlin, Beginners’ plot centers on three characters – Hal (Christopher Plummer), Oliver (Ewan McGregor), and Anna (Melanie Laurent). They are neither lead nor supporting characters, but their presence permeates throughout the entire film like specters, never grounded in the context of plot, but is carefree, almost fleeting in nature. While the motivations of these characters are evident, they do not seem to contribute to narrative progression. And this is sometimes frustrating to watch.

Oliver works as a creative artist of sorts in a small design firm. He lives with his faithful dog, Arthur, who longs to be his “girlfriend”. Oliver’s father, Hal, is ill with cancer, and has revealed himself to be gay since his marriage. Since his wife’s death, Hal has developed a relationship with a young male lover who makes Oliver uncomfortable whenever he is sighted in the hospital or at Hal’s home. Anna has a chance encounter with Oliver and plays the “love interest” in this film, albeit portraying a role that does not conform to type.

The performances are standard without any noteworthy moments, though I must admit that Laurent is arguably one of the most beautiful actresses working in film today and her fine acting here complements her beauty well. Beginners executes its plot in a primarily visual way through the use of imagery containing still photography, color slides, and many other techniques. An omnipresent narrator also guides us along the way, sometimes waxing lyrical on philosophical themes, at other times alluding to ideas pertaining to memory and time.

Beginners’ uneven tone and the lack of dramatic material prove to be its downfall, though it is not as bad as I have described. The film occasionally surprises us with its unconventionality, but the novelty wears off quickly. Beginners is appropriately-titled as the film explores characters who find themselves starting to lead new lives in ways they are struggling to be emotionally prepared for. Mainstream audiences are advised to ignore this film, but those who frequent screenings of non-mainstream films may find this mildly interesting.

GRADE: C+ 






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