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Beginners


No one should have to hide who they really are or how they really feel. Others around them end up getting hurt more often as a result. Take Beginners as an example. A man, Hal (Christopher Plummer), lives out his marriage as a straight man, only to confess to his son, Oliver (Ewan McGregor), that he has always been gay.

Grade:

While it is extremely difficult to understand his life as a man stuck hiding his true self due to social pressures, it is just as disappointing to know that Oliver grew up in a family situation where his parents were unhappy and living lies. Once his wife dies, Hal comes out and lives his life to the fullest potential until he tragically succumbs to cancer. Oliver has to content himself with the loss of his father and his never-ending string of unsuccessful relationships. As he meets Anna (Melanie Laurent, Inglourious Basterds), Oliver begins to find the joy in life he had so often missed while reminiscing about the final days he spent with his father.

Apart from the excellent performances and a touching story, the thing that really sticks out about Beginners is the artistic and stylistic decisions made by director/writer Mike Mills. The way in which the film dispenses key information about the main characters is very unique and quite interesting. Ewan McGregor narrates, “This is what x looks like, and this is what y looks like…” as a montage of pictures flash on the screen. Initially this style is used to present the generational gap between Oliver and Anna and their parents, but it morphs into a semi-critical discussion of social pressure and how normal life in one generation affects the coming generations in a multitude of ways.

Other stylistic choices, albeit ones that didn’t have the same positive effect, manifest themselves in quirky scenes. Oliver’s job as an album artist (or something to that effect) screams indie hipster movement to anyone who can recognize the style, so the odd drawings and random cut-away scenes come as little surprise, but they don’t particularly fit well within the film’s context. Luckily, they, along with giving the dog Arthur subtitled speech, come few and far between, which allows a stronger, and deeper understanding of Oliver, Anna and Hal’s characters.

Christopher Plummer does an excellent job portraying a man revitalized with essentially a second chance at life. He brings a veteran wisdom to the role of Hal that I’m sure would have been lost with different casting choices. He received the Oscar and acclaim, but I am more inclined to give a portion of the credit to Ewan McGregor for making Plummer’s job that much easier.

I have always liked McGregor’s work, so it was not shocking that he was able to dive into Oliver’s character with such emotion and attentiveness. As Oliver learns more about himself from Anna’s influence, McGregor portrays the self-realizations with sufficient tact and care. Oliver grew up knowing something was wrong with his parents’ relationship, so he had no basis on which to form a lasting relationship with someone else. The script allowed for this to be extracted, but McGregor and Plummer added the needed talent to make it worthwhile. Meanwhile, it was great to see Laurent in a role where she wasn’t a bitter French Jew burning down the Nazi regime. She has a good chemistry with McGregor and she makes the role of Anna relevant against the stronger parts of Oliver and Hal.

There is much more to be said regarding the lives lost to the homophobic oppression of the fifties and sixties, but I will not get into that here. Beginners handles this subject with care and realistic hope for the future that people will not be ashamed or scared to admit to others and themselves who they are. Being happy is the ultimate goal, so why should someone’s path to their own happiness be hindered by others’ opinions? It’s slightly indie, but Beginners is a good watch with a solid story.

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