Film Review: Beginners (2011)

Sometimes all we need is a second chance. For Hal (Christopher Plummer), his second chance came after his wife of 44 years dies. Hal reveals himself to be a homosexual. For the next four years of his life, he lived openly as a gay man, while his son Oliver (Ewan McGregor) adjusts to the revelation. But all of this is in the past. When the film begins, we meet Oliver after the death of his father. Oliver is paired with his father’s dog Arthur, and both navigate through a grieving process. At a Halloween party, Oliver meets Anna (Mélanie Laurent) and thus begins the journey of a new love amidst deep mourning.

Mike Mills Beginners is not a light film, and yet it manages to pull off a simplicity that does not understate or over sentimentalise its message. The film is surrounded by a maudlin tone which also searches for meaning and understanding. It is believed that the relationships that we see between our parents will establish a blueprint that is inherently followed.

Chemistry between the three main characters is strong and paradoxically uncomfortable. This seems appropriate, given the storyline of a son coming to terms with his father’s sexuality. The disconnectedness also feeds into the relationship between Oliver and Anna, when they partially break down. The initial screen presence between McGregor and Laurent is warm and charming, but moves into difficult territory as the distance is felt.

McGregor displays a quiet sadness feels very real. It is not heightened or exaggerated, but is a melancholic display of grief that continues to permeate. The film ultimately stays in this sombre mood, which is frankly refreshing, and does not attempt to stage a feel good “circle of life” ending. McGregor’s scenes with Arthur the dog are heartbreakingly cute. Arthur is dependent on company, as he too is grieving and both have the best chemistry together on-screen. Plummer and Laurent are utterly delightful with much vivacity and liveliness evident. Their spark smartly balances the darkness and sadness that consumes Oliver.

Unsurprisingly, Beginnings is about new beginnings (which is probably a redundant term!) and the second chances that come after a family member’s death. For Hal, the death of his wife allowed him to start again, and for Oliver, the death of his father also sees the beginning of a new relationship.

Beginners is touching, funny, well acted, original and shines particularly bright in still photograph montage scenes. These scenes are shown in the trailer and detail a series of images including the sun, the sky and the president at time. It is well worth catching the film as the film ends its theatrical release.

Beginners was released in Australia on August 25 through Hopscotch Films


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