Beginners Directed by: Mike Mills Cast: Ewan McGregor, Christopher Plummer, Mélanie Laurent Running Time: 1 hr 45 mins Rating: R Release Date: June 10, 2011 (Wide)
PLOT: Oliver's (McGregor) life takes a big swing when his father (Plummer) makes two announcements: he has terminal cancer, and that he is gay.
WHO'S IT FOR? This is a solid adult drama. McGregor and Plummer are great, plus there is a surprising amount of quality romance when Anna (Laurent) comes along.
EXPECTATIONS: I'm slowing realizing Focus Features doesn't make a bad movie. Jane Eyre, Win Win and Hanna were all good.
ACTORS: Ewan McGregor as Oliver: This is his best performance in years. Personally, I'd go all the way back to Moulin Rouge! Watching Ewan as Oliver deal with love is so positively engaging. He's a lost soul at that age of trying to find his place in the grand scheme of things when he's rocked by the news of his dad. Oliver narrates along the way and that feels fresh as well. When he says, "This is what it looks like to smile in 2003 ... in 1955" with the images on the screen, I was totally moved and with him for this ride. Score: 9
Christopher Plummer as Hal: The man doesn't have an Oscar. Even though it's a role about a dying man, there is such joy in his eyes. It's almost like Hal's ego won't let cancer keep him down from finally fully enjoying who he is. He's so sweet. Hal manages to teach Oliver many life lessons about love even though it's through the power of hindsight. Plummer doesn't have an Oscar. This one is Oscar worthy. Score: 10
Mélanie Laurent as Anna: I was smitten. Opposites always attract. That's what we see with our romances, especially our romantic comedies. Not here. Not with Beginners. Being alike attracts. Anna has similar inner-relationship baggage as Oliver. Both run away from commitment. There's also a fun level of distance with Oliver's pursuit of Anna. They start with her saving her voice and writing little messages on a pad of paper to him. It's adorable. On top of that, she's a traveling actress. Score: 9
Goran Visnjic as Andy: Simple and sweet. I thought Andy would get on my nerves, but he didn't. Plus, Oliver and Andy share a great final moment that allows the viewer to decide the full meaning. Visnjic is unrecognizable. Score: 8
TALKING: I already mentioned the voiceover/narration working. You know what else is awesome and feels totally original? Subtitles for the dog. My favorite moment between Oliver and Hal is when Hal gives his son a late night call and talks about going to a club. He's curious what kind of music was playing. Oliver let's him know it's called "House" music. In classic parent form, Hal repeats and gets a pencil to write it down. Beginners isn't just about the big subject of a father coming out to his son, it's about those "roll your eyes" moments that we all have with our parents. Score: 9
SIGHTS: The still images used when Oliver is describing the different years are very moving. The artwork Oliver does for his job are totally cool. Just so you know, Mills and McGregor both drew those pieces. The graffiti, including some Britney Spears knowledge is fun. The costumes, especially Dr. Sigmund Freud are hilarious. Beginners proves you don't need special effects and sweeping landscapes to capture beauty on the screen. Score: 9
SOUNDS: The musical score quietly adds to the film. McGregor never breaks into song, but "Sometimes I Wonder" starts things off very nicely. Hal takes his moments with some classical music as well. Score: 7
BEST SCENE: I love a good "first time we met story." Oliver and Anna definitely have one with the help of Sigmund Freund at a costume party.
ENDING: Oliver learns about himself. I'm totally content with the end.
QUESTIONS: Does Oliver think those subtitles are what Arthur is thinking, or is he detached enough from reality that he actually thinks Arthur speaks to him? Also, what was your most emotional moment in this movie? Mine was when Arthur thought he saw Hal in the hallway of the hotel. I was crushed by it even before Oliver was.
All my other questions were answered in my interviews with Mike Mills and Ewan McGregor. One question that didn't make the cut: I asked Mills why there was four seconds of nudity (Laurent topless from the side) in the film. I was happy to see it, just so you know. His answer ... Was there? Oh yeah. Well, she's French. When she got out of bed, I don't think we even knew she was topless under that robe.
REWATCHABILITY: Definitely. Looking forward to awards season and getting the screener sent to me in the mail. I'll be having my wife watch as well.
Beginners is about starting something new whether you think you're ready or not. Hal has been dealing with external societal issues, and has stayed a closeted gay man until late in his life. Oliver has internal issues (partly from watching his parents) that have kept him stunted in his professional and personal life. Then love comes along. Happy sigh.
There is a personal story being told here, with Mills relating the facts of his life, but allowing fiction to take place so McGregor and Plummer can put their stamps on this story as well. I love the originality with the art, the subtitles and narration. It's a romance where you actually feel the internal struggles and hope for those involved. I'm not ready to hand Christopher Plummer the Oscar for Best Supporting Actor, but he'll be contending.
It's one of my favorite movies of the first half of 2011.
FINAL SCORE: 9/10