"Beginners" is a beautiful and entertaining film, full of different layers of life sorrows. It's based on film director and writer, Mike Mill’s, true story of coming to terms with his mother's death and his father's decision to come out of the closet — followed quickly by health issues and his father's eventual death.
Mike Mills’s surrogate, Oliver, is superbly played by Ewan McGregor, who is heartbroken over his father's death and becomes a mopey mess.
He eventually falls for the equally doleful and damaged Anna, played by the beautiful, but even more talented, Mélanie Laurent. The two have amazing chemistry together and create a believable relationship on screen.
Through flashbacks, we see Oliver’s life and relationships unfold. We follow his connection to his depressed mother when he is a child, then, after his mother's death, to his father Hal (Christopher Plummer).
When Hal comes out of the closet, he finally feels free to reveal his true self to the world. He starts a new life that makes him happy and involves dating a much younger man. But Oliver, who shares a unique bond with his father, struggles to adapt to the massive change in Hal's lifestyle and health.
After Hal's death, Oliver tries to begin anew by dating Anna and starts putting his life back together again.
The film is filled with tangible relationships. The biggest example being the engaging love story between Oliver and Anna. Although their relationship is filled with misery, it also creates substance and a depth that brings happiness to the surface for both characters.
“You make me laugh, but I’m still sad,” a movie quote from Oliver, best sums up their relationship and most of the connections in the movie.
One my favorite connections is between Oliver and Hal’s dog, Arthur, a Jack Russell. After Hal dies, Oliver looks after Arthur, speaking to him in witty subtitles that give the film comic relief.
On the flip side the weakest link is between Hal and his younger, and clueless boyfriend, Andy. The two don't seem to connect, but work together just enough to avoid damaging the film.
"Beginners" is well written and impressively directed by Mike Mills. But all that wouldn’t matter without the fantastic cast.
Ewan McGregor gives one the best performances of his career and is easily on par with the great Christopher Plummer, who completes the brilliant chemistry between the two. Not to be overshadowed is Mèlanie Laurent, who effectively conveys a lovable yet damaged woman.
In a special effects and sequels filled summer, I left the theatre thinking that this movie is a true gem.