Beginners - Movie Review

  • 21 July 2011

Rating: 3.5 out of 5

With a slow, wistful pace, Thumbsucker writer-director Mills tells a moving story about connections across generations. It's warm and perhaps a little too heartfelt, but it's grounded in the three central performances.

Oliver (McGregor) is struggling to cope with the death of his father Hal (Plummer), only a few years after his mother Georgia (Keller) died. As his memories swirl, he meets the lively Anna (Laurent) at a party, and they embark on a tentative relationship. But he's consumed by thoughts about his father, who came out as gay after his mother's death and then had a complex relationship with Andy (Visnjic). He also remembers time with his mother when he was a boy (Boos), wondering how his personal history is affecting his life now.

Using a kaleidoscopic structure, Oliver's memories emerge out of order along with his cartoonish sketches and images of the world looked when various events took place. This adds a quirky touch to an introspective, gentle exploration of one man's emotional life. It's also a bit gimmicky, as is Oliver and Anna's relationship, but Mills puts scenes on screen in a way that makes them meaningful, even if it's a bit cerebral.

This askance approach allows the actors to create interesting characters.
McGregor is likeable as always, despite Oliver's mopiness; Plummer is complex and fascinating; Laurent is slightly too adorable, but has a prickly side; and Visnjic is like a goofy child with a sad edge. Their interaction is startlingly realistic, including the ways they can't talk to each other. And in this sense, Hal's dog Arthur is the film's scene-stealer.

It's important to note that homosexuality isn't a theme here. The issue is how Hal "stopped" being gay and adopted Georgia's Jewishness for their decades together. Meanwhile the world around them changed, so Hal's coming out is more an expression of finally living in a society that lets him be who he is. And this never undermines his genuine relationships with Georgia and Oliver. And of course this also informs Oliver's experiences with Anna. It's all somewhat literary and intellectual, but the film's real strength is how Mills helps us see that joy and contentment are choices.

Image caption Beginners

Facts and Figures

Year: 2010

Genre: Dramas

Run time: 105 mins

In Theaters: Thursday 9th June 2011

Box Office USA: $5.8M

Box Office Worldwide: $5.3M

Budget: $3.2M

Distributed by: Focus Features

Production compaines: Olympus Pictures

Reviews 3.5 / 5

Rotten Tomatoes: 84%
Fresh: 124 Rotten: 23

IMDB: 7.2 / 10

Cast & Crew

Director: Mike Mills

Producer: Miranda de Pencier, Lars Knudsen, Leslie Urdang, Jay Van Hoy, Dean Vanech

Screenwriter: Mike Mills

Starring: Ewan McGregor as Oliver, Christopher Plummer as Hal, Mélanie Laurent as Anna, Goran Višnjić as Andy, Kai Lennox as Elliot, Mary Page Keller as Georgia, Keegan Boos as Young Oliver, China Shavers as Shauna, Melissa Tang as Liz, Amanda Payton as Party Person, Luke Dilberto as Green Witch, Lou Taylor Pucci as Magician, Jennifer Lauren Grant as Record Company Rep, Reynaldo Pacheco as Julio, Jodi Long as Dr. Long, Bruce French as Dr. Wright, Leslie Shea as ICU Nurse #1, Michael Chieffo as Hal's Priest, Jennifer Hasty as Secretary, Rodney Saulsberry as 1978 Museum Staff, June Saunders as 1978 Fancy Woman, Catherine McGoohan as 1978 Older Woman, Terry Walters as Terse Nurse, Lana Young as ICU Nurse #2, Algerita Wynn Lewis as Nice Nurse, Regine Redwing as Strict Nurse, Sunday Burke as Home Nurse #1, Patrick L. Birkett as Hal Look-Alike, Sabera Wise as Skating Rink Manager, Rafael J. Noble as Brian, Jose Yenque as Robert

Also starring: Melanie Laurent, Goran Visnjic, Leslie Urdang, Mike Mills