Movie review: Beginners
Rating: 3 out of 5 stars
Opens locally Friday, June 17th, 2011
Run Time: 1 hour, 45 minutes
Starring: Christopher Plummer, Ewan McGregor, Melanie Laurent
Written & Directed by Mike Mills (Thumbsucker)
"Beginners" has all the makings to be that anti-blockbuster impactful drama...the kind of movie that is remembered later in the year during award season and makes common movie-goers say, "Huh? What's that movie? Never heard of it." Instead, "Beginners" bogs itself down by taking serious material too seriously...crushing itself under it's own weight.
The story is quite fresh and original, and deals with Hal (Christopher Plummer) coming out to his son Oliver (Ewan McGregor). Hal had a long marriage to Oliver's mother, but upon her death of natural causes, Hal...at age 75...decides he wants to live freely as a gay man in his final days. His final days may come quicker than Oliver thinks, as Hal also announces to his son that he has terminal cancer.
The film is based on the true happenings of the filmmaker, Mike Mills, so it's hard to fault him for handling the film with such stern focus. Plummer gives a truly beautiful performance as Hal, matched in every scene by Ewan McGregor as Oliver. His nuanced performance would also be worthy of recognition, if only the material gave him some breathing room to find more complexity in his character.
As the title implies, we are dealing with more than one beginner, as Oliver tries to find his own way in life. He has a spoiled dog that he cares for, and can't leave alone for one second. When he meets Anna (the amazingly gorgeous Melanie Laurent) at a party, he has an opportunity to finally lead a life for himself, but he simply doesn't know how. Although he loves and accepts his father's new life, Oliver simultaneously finds it odd and slightly uncomfortable...he is also envious of his father's ability to grab hold of life and simply live.
The movie is just so incredibly sad, and serious, it almost smothers the connection you have with the characters. There are no occasional light moments, or none that I can recall. Even when we see Oliver at a party, he is too consumed with grief, as are we, to have any fun. This movie suffers from the mysterious case of striking the wrong tone, but I'm not entirely sure what the correct tone would have been.
Suffice it to say, "Beginners" is a good movie that itself is just trapped in the closet, afraid to find any lightness in the dark confines of the storyline. If only it could have mustered the courage to set itself free.
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