Beginners was a beautiful film that I absolutely loved and I think you should go and see it. There. You can stop reading now if you want, because I feel it is very difficult to write an objective review for this film. Wait, is a review even meant to be objective? I've never really given it much thought, but it seems to me that the perfect review should contain the right balance of objectivity and subjectivity. Saying purely what you think is arrogant. You need to take the expectations of all readers into consideration. On the other hand, being purely objective will prevent you from expressing an opinion, which is what a review is all about after all. With that useless information in mind, hit the jump for my decidedly subjective review of Beginners, the new-ish dramedy from Mike Mills starring Ewan McGregor, Melanie Laurent and Christopher Plummer.
Beginners is about 38 year old single white male graphic designer Oliver Fields, who finds himself challenged by two rather big announcements from his 75 year old father: (1) that he has terminal cancer and (2) that he is gay (and has a young lover). The story is told in a back-and-forth manner: between Oliver's past, covering his relationship with his father during his last days and dealing with the two announcements just mentioned; and his present, exploring his new relationships with his father's dog Arthur and a quirky French girl named Anna. There are also flashbacks to his childhood - to fill in the story of his parents. Nothing new here.
So, why can I not be objective? Here are the five reasons:
(1) Melanie Laurent. Since seeing her in Inglourious Basterds, any film with her in it is instantaneously and disproportionately elevated. I even enjoyed The Concert, which was actually quite a bad film come to think of it. She is a great actress, impossibly beautiful, and French. In this film she is perfectly cast once again, and so very different from Shosanna Dreyfuss...
(2) Too much Empathy. I saw way to much of myself in Ewan McGregor's character Oliver. Way too much. And I don't mean the good things. Being able to empathise with a character (not necessarily because of the brilliance of the writing, but because of happenstance) is not conducive to objectivity.
(3) The Mother. Oliver's wildly eccentric mother reminded me of some of my family members. Not so much my own mother, but perhaps a collection of aspects from my family combined into one zany character. She stole the show. Brilliant!
(4) The Dog. Oliver's dog Arthur reminds me of our dog Stanley, who is with us no more. Same breed, same personality. You see, Arthur can talk (kind-of), and I'm sure Stanley understood us too.
(5) LA to NY. The film has an LA to NY transition that is such a perfect reminder of a holiday I had in the USA earlier this year. This is such a minor part of the story, and I don't think anybody would make anything of it. But for me - it was like dejavu!
And with those five reasons in mind, my review is basically done. There's not much else to say really. If I could mention two things that did not fit into the contrived little categories above, it would be the music and Andy, the father's young gay lover. The music was beautiful - simple, almost entirely piano, and continuous throughout the vast majority of the film. Andy, on the other hand, was something else. In the beginning I did not know what the hell to think, but by the end I understood: his inherent awkwardness was there by design. Mike Mills obviously felt this when his father came out of the closet and started a homosexual relationship after his mother died (yes, this film is partially autobiographical).
In spite of all my subjectivities, Beginners is still a film that works. Everything is in balance: the quirks (enough to avoid blandness but never becoming hipster and irritating), the style (the film is beautiful but Oliver's drawings are nothing special), the comedy and the drama. There's more of course, but that you can see for yourself...
8.5 out of 10