Beginners

PhotobucketOliver, an illustrator, begins dating the whimsical Anna, a French actress, just months following his father’s passing. The recent relationship causes Oliver to reminisce with respect to his parents’ marriage and specifically his dad who had made a startling disclosure to him only 5 years before his death.

This somber tale’s most admirable aspect is the subtlety of the performances. Most affecting is Christopher Plummer as Hal, Oliver’s recently widowed father, who after 45 years of marriage, embarks on a new life after coming out as a closeted gay man. Hal’s subsequent cancer diagnosis might imply that the screenwriter is stacking the deck in an effort to interject even more importance to the narrative, but surprisingly, it doesn’t feel that way. The revelation is presented early and although the son is extremely confused by the news, the disclosure is introduced in a quiet manner. His forthrightness leads to a growing closeness that develops between father and son. The film illustrates Hal’s “coming out” in little conversational vignettes with Oliver: first exposure to house music, placing personal ads, and his infatuation with Andy, a much younger man.

Writer Director Mike Mills knows a thing a two about the subject matter. His own father made the exact same announcement to him following the loss of his mother. So the story comes from a very real place. This definitely adds to the plot’s authenticity. Mill’s is personally invested in the material and it has a genuine poignancy. The movie is ingeniously divided into 3 timelines, which jump around in sequence. The first being the present day and his romance with Anna, several months after his dad has died, the second period is the time spent with his father in the wake of his mother’s departure, and the third concerns his relationship with his mom, when he was a boy of 9.

The bareness of the plot allows the actors to really delve into their characters and bring life to them on screen. While everyone delivers honest performances, I couldn’t help but feel the entire drama was somewhat underwhelming now and then. There are cute editing bookends that provide historical shortcuts of the time periods and their Jack Russell terrier is actually given subtitles as if he’s speaking. These quirky touches indeed add to the drama’s anecdotal nature, but they also betray a lack of faith in the story itself to captivate the audience. The memoir can occasionally be a bit precious, but sincerity and nuance conquer that issue in the end.

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3 Responses to “Beginners”

  1. This was a bit of a sleepy movie. It didn’t “wow” me but I liked it. The acting was good.

    Like

  2. Markus Robinson Says:

    Nice review Mark. Just saw this movie myself and it did work quite well for me, but what you are saying about it being somewhat pretentious.

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    • Thanks Markus. I didn’t think it was “pretentious” exactly which would imply an affected, or exaggerated feeling of importance. It was a movie of distinction. I called it overly “precious” which is slightly different. It was excessively cute with the subtitles for the dog and the shorthand summaries of the time period. Nothing really wrong with that, it’s just that the movie’s subject matter was substantial enough without all the silly extras. A slight, but interesting film.

      Like

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