Beginners is a movie I would have let slip under my radar. I knew next to nothing about it (I suspect that most of you don’t either) and all I had to go on was a movie poster that was rather generic looking and couldn’t convey any sense for what the film was. But my mother wanted a movie night out with her sons and wanted to see the film. So I went along not really expecting anything out of the movie since I had no expectations, but I’m extremely glad that I did. Beginners is one of my favorite films of the year thus far. Woody Allen’s Midnight In Paris is its rival and I’m not sure which one I like more. To be honest though, which film is better really doesn’t matter as they both equally stand out as some of the best that cinema has to offer this year and should be seen by any self-respecting movie fan.
In Beginners, Oliver meets the irreverent and unpredictable Anna (Mélanie Laurent of Inglourious Basterds) only months after his father Hal Fields (Christopher Plummer) has passed away. This new love floods Oliver with memories of his father, who, following the death of his wife of 45 years, came out of the closet at age 75 to live a full, energized, and wonderfully tumultuous gay life – which included a younger boyfriend, Andy (Goran Visnjic). The upheavals of Hal’s new honesty, by turns funny and moving, brought father and son closer than they’d ever been able to be. Oliver endeavors to love Anna with all the bravery, humor, and hope that his father taught him.*
The movie is both funny and incredibly moving. I’ll be the first to admit that these weird water droplets kept coming out of my eyes.. ok, fine, I cried okay! Though I’m pretty sure everyone in the theater didn’t have a dry eye. Mike Mills (the writer/director) captures moments between characters that feel very authentic and easily relatable. I was invested in the film from the start with its sort of quirky humor and non-linear fashion of storytelling. When Oliver meets Anna their chemistry is instant and a very organic, realistic-feeling romance develops. This is the part of the film I was most invested in personally. I’m a romantic at heart and what I saw on screen reminded me of times where I’ve felt a connection with someone and the rush you get from it as well as the fear and pain of losing it.
Mélanie Laurent is definitely my favorite part of the movie. She’s astonishingly beautiful and utterly captivating. She brings both a great sense of fun and a kind of somber fragility to her character. The acting across the board though is excellent. Christopher Plummer is great and I thought Ewan McGregor gave one of the best performances of his career.
The film is more than a romantic drama though. The relationship Oliver has to his father and mother play a big part. The movie cuts between scenes of Oliver and Anna’s relationship with that of the last few years of his father’s life as a gay man. Oliver dealing with his outed father never presents itself as a “oh my dad’s gay, how is this going to affect me” kind of story nor is it used as a comedic device, though there is plenty of humor there. Instead, that story thread is about realizing what is real and who we really are as people. It’s about looking past all the bullshit we deal with in life and finding peace in being ourselves. I personally think that Oliver’s father is a hero (albeit fictional). He took hold of his life, even at his old age, and lived the last years of his life the way he had always wanted to and didn’t give a damn about what someone might think of him. In that, he found happiness.
Beginners is probably not playing at a multiplex theater near you. You are going to have to find an art house theater to be able to see it more than likely. But I highly encourage that you take the time to do just that. It’s a great film to talk about and will, I have no doubt, move you. In the time of summer movies, it’s really nice to balance that with something of great substance as well. In Beginners, they use a quote from the Velveteen Rabbit and I think it really sums up a huge theme of the movie that has a lot of truth to it. So I’ll end the review with that and hope you go check out the movie.
“Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in the joints and very shabby. But these things don’t matter at all, because once you are Real you can’t be ugly, except to people who don’t understand… once you are Real you can’t become unreal again. It lasts for always.”
9.5/10*Synopsis taken from the film’s official site.