Beginners Directed by: Mike Mills Cast: Ewan McGregor, Melanie Laurent, Christopher Plummer Running Time: 1 hr 45 mins Rating: R Release Date: June 10, 2011
PLOT: A man (McGregor) is forced to come to terms with himself and loss in the wake of his gay father's (Plummer) death, with the help of a beautiful young woman (Laurent).
WHO'S IT FOR? Those who enjoy the quiet, understated character piece will surely enjoy what Mills has to offer with this film, but McGregor and Plummer fans won't want to miss the pitch-perfect performances of the two.
Week after week, countless 3D movies make it to the big screen with the promise of immersing the audience in the world of the film. Mike Mills delivers on the promise of complete and total immersion, but he manages to do it without the gimmick of the third dimension. He does it by creating an engrossing story. In the simplest sense, Beginners is a love story, not entirely unlike any other we've seen. Sure, there are bits and pieces that are new to us, but the basic "boy meets girl" elements are all there. While this could have condemned the movie to a life of tired clichés, Mills is not content with providing cookie cutter type characters to play out in his drama. Rather, he fills the movie with characters we could have sworn we've seen before, but relish getting to know all over again throughout the course of the movie.
The characters of the film are a true testament to the skills of the writer/director, but also to the men and women who bring them to life on the screen. Ewan McGregor, as the doting son, is alarmingly effective. He shows a very real talent for the comedic, which Beginners makes good use of, but it is in those quiet moments of such dramatic intensity that the audience begins to see the vulnerability of the performance. Still, much like real life, Beginners is about one person's need to make sense of himself and his life, through his relationships with others. While this certainly manifests in a romantic relationship, the most charming and emotionally effective relationship is the one between Oliver (McGregor) and his parents. The flashbacks between Oliver and his mother provide a consistent dose of comedy, but it is only when we see the quiet desperation in his mother's eyes that we see these scenes for what they truly are. Nevertheless, the moments between father and son are some of the most painfully intimate and sincere moments dedicated to film. Simple scenes, such as Oliver trying to get his father to take his medication, feel as if they were stolen from a family album and we're only permitted this glimpse into their lives, but these stolen moments are what make Beginners such a powerful moviegoing experience.
However, the real strength of the film isn't in its story or in its characters. It's in what audiences bring to the film. Beginners is a film where some life experience and perhaps even a little emotional baggage make the film an even stronger one. What I appreciated most was Beginners' dedication to life experiences in a way that was understandable for the characters onscreen, but remained completely relatable to the audience. One of the best examples of this is the film's constantly shifting tone. It remains consistent with the character, but its unpredictable dance between the hilarious and the heartbreaking is as true to life as I've seen on film. That's the thing about Beginners. Even if its story may tread unfamiliar territory for some people or its quirky humor may seem unrealistic at times, I never questioned the film's sincerity.
In the end, it is Mills' commitment to the story world, the characters, and the audience that makes Beginners such an impressive film. Without falling subject to the melodramatic or the maudlin, it manages to create an emotional testament to the relationships that we form in our lives. Furthermore, it manages to populate this world with familiar people. Not because we know them from other films, but because we've experienced them before, in ourselves. It is this mix of the real, the genuine emotion of our own lives, that enriches the film paired with the world Mike Mills creates for his characters that makes Beginners such a well-rounded, but equally visceral time at the movies.
FINAL SCORE: 10/10