Wednesday, 27 July 2011


2010. Dir: Mike Mills. Starring: Ewan McGregor, Christopher Plummer, Melanie Laurent, Goran Visnjic and Mary Page Keller. ●●●○○

I expect that my soul is dead inside, with nothing approaching a warm fuzzy core, otherwise wouldn't the whiny and emotionally cloying spectacle of Mike Mills sophomore directorial effort, Beginners, have had me aching for the pain of the characters instead of checking the time throughout the screening and finding my mind wonder what the point of individual scenes was whilst watching them. Especially annoying as certain elements dragged down the positive and balanced view of sexual orientation and a beautifully judged father son relationship.

Opening with Ewan McGregor's Oliver clearing the apartment of his recently deceased father Hal(Christopher Plummer) the film flits between timeframes, falling back to the last five years of Hal's life, a period when he is finally able to come out to his adult son and yet a period where he must battle and - ultimately lose - the fight against cancer, and pushing forward to Oliver dealing with the grief and forming a blossoming romance with Melanie Laurent. A relationship that fully underlines the cultural shift in social conventions; emphasising that Oliver and Anna may experiment sexually and emotionally with other without redress whilst Hal had to deny his sexuality - acknowledged but suppressed - in order to conform.

It was only with the passing of Hal's wife and Oliver's Mother (played in obscure flashbacks as a 40 something liberal housewife by Mary Page Keller) that Hal is able to be true to his feelings and live the gay lifestyle he had been denied. He guts his wardrobe, thrusts himself into promoting LGBT equality and enters a relationship with the fey, sensitive Andy (an unrecognisable Goran Visnjic), a gay stereotype always on the hunt for homophobia and battling with abandonment issues since being rejected by his family.

The relationship between Plummer and McGregor is easily the best thing in this movie, as Hal painfully recounts the tough choices he had to make to keep the family happy Oliver moves through indifference to respect to a new level of devotion to his father. Both of the actors reach levels of performance quality that simply can't be sustained elsewhere.

Not that necessarily a fault of the other actors, but mainly of the twee and self-consciously kooky screenplay. The romance between Oliver and Anna is particularly vexing, as they meet as a fancy dress party, he's recovering from his fathers death by dressing as Freud and bringing his father's Jack Russell. She's hiding her laryngitis by dressing as Charlie Chaplin. They literally "sleep" together before eventually developing a better understanding of the history of melancholy (and trust me they leave little out of that) whilst roller skating in the lobby of a top hotel.

This indie spirit, with is cutesy repetitive narration (complete with on-the-nose graphical depictions), alluring sub-titled performance from the Jack Russell and all the best of intentions eventually became as fussy and cluttered as the over-dressed sets. The worst thing is most of the moments relating to the romance seemed either forced or horribly derivative. Even the glimpses we get of Oliver as a child, being dragged round galleries by his free spirited, extroverted mother doesn't work as the third wheel of Hal barely gets a shadow.

I would have preferred a movie which skipped Plummer's reminiscences (as perfect as he is in the role) and skipped straight to the truth of the past, showing how marriage worked for the unlikely couple. I understand the film was a form of therapy for writer/director Mills, like his central protagonist he experienced his father's outing late in life with just a few years before his passing.

Ultimately I would have to say the film fails for me, especially in the romantic plotline, but it's not without it's charms and may be worth watching if the issues presented are in anyway applicable to your life.


Andrew: Encore Entertainment said...

I'm interested in this solely because it's Ewan and he NEEDS a good film role, pronto

Runs Like A Gay said...

I actually much preferred his performance in last years The Ghost and he does do alright here, but as ever he's let down by the movie.

Maybe Toronto pic Salmon Fishing in the Yemen will restore his reputation.

TomS said...

Hi Ben... It is good to be back perusing your site.

Ah well... Of course, I had hoped that you would have liked this film more. But as I mentioned to you earlier, it is to predict how it will be received. I suppose it appeals to viewers in an unusually personal way--or not, whatever the case may be.

Runs Like A Gay said...

Hi Tom,

It's good to have you back.

Perhaps the films is too personal like you say, ultimately I could appreciate the father/son half of the story but the romance with Laurent was so twee I couldn't engage with it.