Bridesmaids was hysterical. Midnight in Paris was charming. Tree of Life was….well… um, visually stunning? Okay let’s stop being pretentious and just call Brad Pitt’s movie like it is. It was a 2 ½ hour nap at the theatre. Yes, I just saved you $13.50 at the movies. You’re Welcome! Otherwise, this 2011 year has had an excellent choice in films for everyone.
Beginners is a limited released, lower budget, indie film from director Mike Mills. This former graphic artist provides such an original vision & concept to his storytelling that it’s shocking to think he isn’t a household name. What’s great & frankly brings more emotion to the story – is that it’s based on his real life experience! Ewan McGregor (Trainspotting, Big Fish) is Oliver – a quiet yet introverted Californian graphic artist in his late 30s. For the record, Ewan does his finest acting here in his entire 20-year career span. Right off the bat, you can see he’s not exactly flourishing in his family nor romantic relationships. (So unrealistic! Have you seen this man? Moulin Rouge, anyone? Swoon.) His father, Hal, played with elegance & charisma by Christopher Plummer (The Sound of Music) is 70 years old. After being married to Oliver’s mother for over 44 years, he jumps out of the closet and reveals he is gay. Now, before you think this is some liberal rainbow celebration, I can honestly say this: It’s a simple love story with elements of comedy and drama.
The film is told off sequence while jumping from past to present. The two periods that intercept are when Hal tells his son he’s gay and when Oliver meets Anna, a lovely French woman played by Melanie Laurent from Inglourious Basterds. It’s NO SPOILER ALERT when I say Hal is diagnosed with cancer. (It’s in the trailer below, people! Note this adds that element of drama). Hal rediscovers his life and becomes his true self while finding someone to love and to be loved by. This provides the opportunity for Hal and Oliver to be reintroduced to each other as father and son. These rare moments are the heart and soul of this picture. Later, (slowly but surely) Oliver breaks a streak of bad relationships and grows anew with this new woman. Life is not without it’s complications and nothing is perfect. She stays at hotels and he’s romantically unhinged. Why yes, we call this magic! I must say that Anna and Oliver have the most splendid “meet-cute” that I have seen grace the screen since the films of the 1940s. Picture this: a costume house party. Oliver dressed a Freud and Anna as Charlie Chaplin. She doesn’t speak a word the complete night because of laryngitis. While solely communicating through pen and paper, you begin to see a spark ignite between these two strangers. Your eyes can’t tear away from the screen. The director does an impeccable job with the actors, screenwriting, and cinematography. The scene where Hal learns of his cancer, Oliver listens as the doctor tells him the tumor is the size of a quarter. We see Oliver picturing a 25-cent quarter. Next, it’s two dimes and a nickel followed by five nickels. Finally, it’s the lasting image of 25 pennies. To make a toxic cancer appear as a visualization of money, I must cite pure genius from the director! (When you see it, you’ll understand the concept).
I’ll try not to ruin the entire film (because trust me there’s much more.) Beginners is exactly as advertised. It’s a “Take Two.” Bottom line: You are never too old to become a “beginner” in life and in love. What I loved about this film was the simplicity and honesty behind it. After a MASSIVE summer haul of big bang sequels (Transformers), action flicks (Fast Five – I want my money back) and mindless comedies (Your Highness –seriously again, James Franco?), it was a sweet breath of fresh air to sit in a theatre and laugh/cry/bask in the presence of quality film making. I may be exaggerating (I tend to do this) but in this chaotic life, I don’t think it’s wrong to ask for something we all can enjoy. After all, the price of movies seems to increase every year. No, seriously, Vin Diesel – where the hell is my $13.50 + $3 IMAX fee?
VERDICT: SEE IT
Here's the Trailer: