Summary: Beginners is a film written and directed by Mike Mills, and is based on his 75-year-old father who came out of the closet following the death of his wife of 45 years.
My Review: Though the film has a light comedic tone, the complex relationships and issues at hand are deep and thought provoking. It offers a glimpse into one family's skeletons, which, in a sense, provide confirmation that "simple and happy" are not so easily obtained.
Told in present time (2003) with complementing flashbacks and symbolic pictures, Beginners is a story that focuses on Oliver (Ewan McGregor) and the aftermath of his father's death five years after his mother's. Very early into the film, we see that Oliver's father, Hal (Christopher Plummer) confesses to being gay, immediately after the death of his mom. Shortly after coming out, Hal begins to live out his life as a gay man and even embarks on a relationship with a younger companion, Andy (Goran Visnjic of ER). But just as Hal is able to finally live the life he has always yearned, he is diagnosed with terminal cancer and passes away.
Oliver is left with sorting through his early memories of his mother and the many nights she spent alone, and the father he finally came to know in his final years. Being an only child, we can see that Oliver had clearly picked up on the subtle clues that his parents' marriage was not what it seemed, and this affects Oliver later in life, causing him to have a fear of commitment because as he often states, "he's just afraid of it not working out."
Oliver, now 38, is terminally sad. But with the urging of his eclectic friends - who like to dress in costume, party and vandalize buildings with poignant poetic messages and Hal's intelligent Jack Russell terrier who doesn't come out and speak but communicates with subtitles - Oliver meets a beautiful Parisian actress named Anna (Melanie Laurent), whom he begins a love affair with and soon experiences the ups and downs of being in a relationship.
There are so many things that I loved about this movie. In summary, the film is brilliantly written and well acted. McGregor does an outstanding job of playing the loving son, who rediscovers his father and sees him in a new light after his coming out. Meanwhile, Plummer is just fabulous as the dad. His confessions felt so real that I found myself sobbing during most of the scenes with him and, in particular, as he comes to grips with his illness and the idea of death; just beautiful acting on his part. And I adore Laurent who is quickly becoming one of my favorite foreign actresses. She has a certain credibility to her that makes us, the audience, fall in love with her character, rooting for her story to end well. We wanted happiness for the couple, even if they had to work for it.
Beginners was a light-hearted, beautiful story about relationships and family, and I laughed, smiled and even cried. Five Stars!!
Cast and Credit:
Written and Directed by Mike Mills
Ewan McGregor - Oliver
Christopher Plummer - Hal
Melanie Laurent - Anna
Goran Visnjic - Andy
Mary Page Kellar - Georgia