Beginners (2011)

I definitely have a lot of questions to ask my daddy now.

‘Beginners’ tells the story of Oliver (Ewan McGregor), a graphic artist coming to grips with the imminent death of his father (Christopher Plummer), who, at 75, has one last secret: He’s gay. Both inspired and confused by his father’s determination to find true love at last, Oliver tentatively pursues a romance with commitment-shy French actress Anna (Mélanie Laurent).

It sounds like a weird premise that a 75-year old man would come out of the closet, after being married to a woman and having a child for 45 years, until you find out that this was actually from director/writer Mike Mills’ own life. Talk about a “birds and the birds” talk with your dad.

The film is a lot difficult at first since it has all of these different story-lines and the way its told is through a non-linear story structure, but somehow Mills makes it all work and by the 20 minute mark, I  didn’t get confused one bit as to when and where this story was at. Mills creates a very self-aware film where it breaks down the fourth-wall many times, shows years through pictures, has Oliver narrate the film a little bit himself, and even allow the dog to talk with subtitles appearing on the screen. All of this sounds a little crazy to have in just one flick, but it somehow works so incredibly well and Mills does not once lose himself with all of these little quirks that he can so easily pull off here.

Another aspect to this film is how Mills is able to make us smile and laugh, but even when it gets onto its real emotional stuff, it works even more. I laughed a lot during this flick mainly because there was just a happy little sweet spirit to everything behind this story. The story is essentially about a dude reflecting on his dad’s death through his own life and love, but there is just so many sweet and charming moments that this film lets loose of that it’s almost too hard to pay attention to that part of the story.

However, when it does get to the emotional stuff, the story does leave a lasting impact. Mills goes into the fractured and sad soul of Oliver and we get to see how he feels about the world and why. There is a lot of emotional truth to a lot of these scenes that they have here in this flick and it will actually touch you and make sense mainly because Mills is so able to just let out all of the feelings hurt people have inside. The film tackles a lot of aspects to Oliver’s life but almost each subject ends with a poignant but truthful moment and even though it never had me crying, I still felt connected to a lot of what was going on. Even though my dad isn’t gay, or not that I know of…

My main problem with this flick is that it doesn’t really have any surprises to offer when the story first gets started. It starts with us knowing that Oliver’s dad is dead and for me, I think that was a little bit of a bummer considering I think the film would have really worked if it started from us having his father tell him that he was gay, and somehow be able to work in the love-relationship he has with Anna as well. However, the structure they had done for this film already isn’t so bad in the first place so for me to really complain about it, is kind of bogus.

Another problem I had with this flick is that I feel like a lot of what Mills does here, as a very stylish director, is somewhat pretentious. Yes, a lot of what he brings to this film and this story is very original, but at times I feel like he was just adding some of his own little artsy moments in there to put his own stamp on things. I thought having Oliver’s work-life sort of go down the tubes because of how sad he is getting, was sort of like Mills trying to put his life more and more into this story, considering that he is a graphic artist himself which is what kind of bothered me to begin with.

Ewan McGregor is an actor who almost seems terribly bored with every role he has been taking in as of late, but he somehow here makes this performance perfect as Oliver. I don’t know what there is about him but he’s just so subtle, so relaxed, and so real that he just fits this character so well and it’s really great to see him work on his comedic chops but also his dramatic chops considering that it’s been a long while since he’s gotten the chance to do so. Everybody who loved ‘Inglorious Basterds’ will notice Mélanie Laurent playing Oliver’s “girlfriend”, Anna. She is your usual quirky, eccentric, and pretty zany love interest that almost any rom-com has but she has an under-lining darkness to her that separates her and keeps her away from being a “type”. These two are great together and you can really feel their chemistry every time they hit the screen. Let’s not also forget the scene-stealing dog, played by Cosmo who creates this buddy-buddy relationship with McGregor that is unlike anything else.

It’s practically a given that Christopher Plummer gives a good performance here but he really does shine here as Hal, and it may just be the role that could nab him that Oscar after all of these years. Plummer doesn’t play this role with a lot of camp or any hoakiness that usually comes with a dude playing a homosexual man. Instead, he takes this role with a large amount of embrace that he is finally able to live the life he has wanted to for so long, and the way Plummer plays it all is not just a joy to watch, but also inspirational. There has been some talk for Plummer getting an Oscar for this and that is not something I would be against since he is so incredible here and you really just feel like this is a real person rather than the usual flamboyant caricature we usually get of a homosexual man.

Consensus: With a real heart at the center of its funky story, Beginners is a well-acted, gentle, funny, and moving portrait about it never being too late to have love in your life, no matter how old or young.



  1. Good review, I loved this film completely which is just a tad more than you. This story wasn’t afraid of being different & quirky and I loved how much it wears it’s heart & emotions on it’s sleeve while at the same times tries to hide them at least the emotions part. Great performances all around, and no one can resist Cosmo. One of my favorites from this year.

  2. Great review! I’ll admit, at first I was bummed that we see everything happen within the first ten minutes of the film…but then I realize that it’s not necessary for every movie to end with its climax. I loved the way Mills makes the film, from beginning to end, and the dog is honestly a welcome character in my book. Love it! You can check out my review and comment and subscribe!

  3. I was lucky enough to see this film with Mills in attendance at MIFF earlier in the year and hearing the man speak about the film really boosted the strength of its resonance with me; all of those little things that you mentioned as sticking out had perfect explanations, none of which I can really remember now (thanks to being sick with Nerd Flu and high on the medication at the time).

    Flicking through the book of sketches that he drew for the movie, both those that were to be used in it and those that inspired it, also really helped me ‘understand’ the film, if that’s the right word given its apparent simplicity. That attention to deeper meaning in the details is what really sold me on the film emotionally; my favourite example being the repetition of the bedtime game, even though that was apprarently just a coincidence on Melanie’s part.

    So maybe try and check out some interviews/ the book and see if they raise your reaction a little too.

  4. Quirky, charming little movie I thought. The structure is definitely original if not messy and the story ultimately doesn’t offer much of any twist but overall, this was a really pleasant watch thanks to the performances by McGregor, Laurent and Plummer.

  5. I’ve already heard that there’s some possible awards chatter on this film. I’ve been wanting to see it! Sounds like it must have been good. I’m looking forward to see it!

  6. I just watched this. I like it a lot. Like you said, it’s a story about searching love in any age. Going to review it once I have my time. Good review!

  7. I watched this just last night,I really enjoyed it, the way it was cut worked so well and everyone was just brilliant in it

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