75 of 81 people found the following review helpful
There's an emotional acuity to this bittersweet 2011 dramedy that makes the loose structure of the first-person narrative easier to take than one would expect. Director/screenwriter Mike Mills bases his movie on a series of events that occurred in his own life. Just months after Mills' own mother passed away, his 75-year-old father announced that despite their 44-year marriage he was gay and intended to spend his remaining days exploring the hidden side of his libido. Cancer cut short those plans but not the life affirming spirit with which he explored his new lifestyle. It certainly helps that Mills cast 81-year-old Christopher Plummer as the father since his naturally erudite manner complements his character Hal's innately fey quality in a way that makes his late-blooming emotional emancipation all the sweeter. It's a lovely performance well worth remembering during next year's award season.
The protagonist of the story is Oliver, a sensitive cartoonist who is nearing forty and finding himself unable to sustain a lasting relationship. Family dysfunction has taken its toll on Oliver given that he discovers six months after his mother Georgia's death that Hal was in the closet most of Oliver's life, thus explaining why his parents never appeared to connect emotionally. Oliver is obviously concerned a similar fate of repressed feelings will befall him as he rummages through Hal's things after his death. Flashbacks show a childhood dominated by Georgia's eccentric manner with Hal relegated to the shadows of doorways always on his way to another business trip. Meanwhile, closer to the present, Oliver meets a free-spirited French actress named Anna, whose flirtatious manner gives way to her own vulnerability since she has her own family-related challenges in developing romantic connections. Mills intertwines his characters' destinies with the unwieldy nature of life in all its familiarity. There is little one could call pat and predictable in this film.
As Oliver, Ewan McGregor (last seen in the underrated The Ghost Writer) has never come across more comfortably onscreen, making it easy to empathize with his plight without the contrivance of standard Hollywood convention. He has a nice rapport with Mélanie Laurent (she was the vengeful Shosanna Dreyfus in Quentin Tarantino's Inglourious Basterds), and her beguiling portrayal of Anna reminds me of Natassja Kinski during her early Polanski years. Playing Hal's much-younger lover Andy, Goran Visnjiæ does a surprisingly liberated turn completely submerging any remnants of his ER character, while another TV veteran, Mary Page Keller, brings a nice subversive edge to her performance as Oliver's somewhat hardened mother who had long ago accepted her husband's sexual orientation. This is a movie of small moments and quiet revelations, so it won't suit everyone's attention span, but it is worthwhile viewing for more patient, discriminating viewers.
66 of 77 people found the following review helpful
on July 3, 2011
I went with eagerness to this film. I tend to see many gay-themed movies. This one moved me enormously, and it wasn't the gay character, Christopher Plummer, who most affected me, although he was very, very good. What hit me hard about the movie was Ewan McGregor's deeply sensitive portrayal of a lonely man. This movie is not about how a straight son comes to grips with his gay father who comes out very late in life. It's about a man approaching middle age (McGregor) who realizes he has never really loved. I am rarely (and I mean rarely) been moved to tears in a movie. This was an exception.
11 of 12 people found the following review helpful
Format: DVDVerified Purchase
When do we stop being our true self-- and why? And when, and why, after so many years, do we begin to be our true self again? These questions are asked and answered in Mike Mills' autobiographical film "Beginners."
Oliver Fields (Ewan McGregor;, playing a film variation of Mills himself) is a graphic designer who can't seem to communicate his feelings or maintain a long-term emotional relationship. Oliver, though not verbally expressive or emotionally demonstrative, does express his emotions through graphic design and illustration. The movie flashes back into the past and flashes forward again into the present or more recent past. As we see Oliver's relationship with his parents, we see how he became so emotionally conditioned. His parents endured a distant 45 year marriage, in an environment where emotions and secrets were never revealed. After his mother's (Mary Page Keller) death, his 75 year old father Hal (Christopher Plummer; "Hamlet," "The Sound Of Music", "Inside Man") finally comes out of the closet as a gay man. "And I don't want to be just theoretically gay," he says, "I want to do something about it." And, in the final years of his life, Hal embraces his life with gusto and passion ; becoming an active member of the gay community and having a loving relationship with a much younger man (Goran Visnjig). In the last years of his life, Hal finally begins to be his true self, and Oliver finally begins to know and love the father that he never knew before. In the end, Hal refuses to acknowledge the cancer that will end the life he has just begun to live.
In the present day, inspired by his father's example, Oliver decides to embark upon a relationship with the beguiling and seemingly free-spirited Anna (Melanie Laurent). Interestingly, in a movie filled with characters who can't communicate on one level or another, when Oliver and Anna first meet, she has laringytis and, therefore, cannot speak. Turns out, Anna also has issues concerning her distant father. In a sweet touch, an adorable dog named Arthur serves as the emotional connection between all the characters, past and present, dead or alive, here.
Christopher Plummer's deservedly award-winning performance is a subtle but wonderful revelation. You can see the twinkle in his eyes, you can feel his joy, when he finally embraces his true self. In many ways, Oliver is just as full of child-like wonder and astonishment in his relationship with Anna as his father was when he came out of the closet. I am thrilled that Plummer received awards, but I wish Ewan McGregor's equally heartfelt performance and Mike Mills' beautiful screenplay, had also received the same recognition. But, regardless of awards, "Beginners" is a warm and human film; to be cherished.
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
"Beginners" is a dramedy written and directed by Mike Mills, inspired by his own experiences with his father, who adopted a gay lifestyle at the age of 75 after a long marriage. Mills combines his memories of his father's last years with a parallel love story in the life of Oliver (Ewan MacGregor), a Los Angeles graphic designer in his late 30s with a string of failed relationships behind him. A few months after his father dies, Oliver meets Anna (Mélanie Laurent), a French actress who is in LA for a job. Oliver and Anna hit it off, and we see the last years of Oliver's father Hal's (Christopher Plummer) life unfold in flashback as his relationship with Anna grows. We also get a glimpse of Oliver's relationship with his mother (Mary Page Keller) when he was a boy.
The film examines a number of relationships: Oliver and Anna, Oliver and Hal, Oliver and his mother, and Hal and his much younger boyfriend Andy (Goran Visnji'). Of these, I found Oliver's mother and father the most interesting, but that is probably to be expected, considering they are the most personal to the director. I wish we saw more of Oliver's neglected, frustrated mother, as Mary Page Keller gives a stand-out performance in this small role. It's interesting to compare the neurotic behavior of the younger generation to the reserved acceptance of the older generation as well. "Beginners" runs longer than it should due to unnecessary scenes, but it has an honesty that "relationship movies" usually don't, and the cast and characters are appealing.
The DVD (Universal 2011): There are two featurettes and an audio commentary. "A Short Film about Making Beginners" (14 min) is in black-and-white and includes interviews with Mike Mills, the cast, and behind-the-scenes footage. "Beginners Promo" (1 min) is a very short film illustrating the history of love with black-and-white sketches. The audio commentary by writer/director Mike Mills is constant and informative. He compares the characters in the film to his own parents, discusses lighting, score, the actors, the film's emotions, and technical details. It's not strictly a scene-by-scene commentary, but it is a personal one. Subtitles are available fro the film in English SDH, Spanish, and French. Dubbing is available in Spanish.
9 of 11 people found the following review helpful
My enthusiasm for this gem from Mike Mills is unbounded. I loved everything about it, from knowing that it springs from Mills' own life experiences, to its casting (Ewan McGregor, Christopher Plummer and Mélanie Laurent -- brilliant all), to the care with which Mills crafted his work (he's clearly an artist first), to the delightful surprises he embedded within his work (suddenly turning the screen over to the colors of the rainbow flag one by one is yet one dazzlingly original touch). Always destined for the art house, it deserves a wider audience.
Best and, for me, the most memorable scene among many: a costume party in which McGregor's character, Oliver, goes as Sigmund Freud. Soon, in character, he's psychoanalyzing party guests. Suddenly, a wordless Mélanie Laurent slides on to the couch. Eyeing him, she turns the tables: "Why are you so sad?" she pens in quick note to him. He's surprised: he thought he was fooling everyone. Clearly, she's seen through it. "How did you know?" he asks. Another note: this one, simply a drawing of his sad eyes. That scene - equal parts crafty, neat humor and sorrow - is emblematic of the film. From Oliver's reaction, you know straight away that Laurent's Anna will become a very important person in his life.
And that's not even getting to the heart of the movie: the tale of Oliver's father, Hal, his coming out in his late 70s, and the evolving relationship between father and son. Hal's tale - and the tale of Mills' own father - is both heartbreaking for a life lost but, at the same time, uplifting for the spirit of grabbing what you can while there's still time left. Christopher Plummer has never been better. He looks and sounds terrific here.
I listened to an interview with Ewan McGregor after the film was released. He noted that he'd formed such a bond with 'Arthur' - his father's erstwhile Jack Russell Terrier - that he went 'looking for a replacement' after the film had ended. [He adopted a poodle mix .] That bond is clearly evident on the screen.
21 of 29 people found the following review helpful
BEGINNERS has many nice elements to it, and it is a sweet movie overall. But it is also very uneven and frustrating too.
The essential concept is what interested me (that and the actors) in watching this. A son (Ewan McGregor), well into his thirties and still quite single, has to grapple with the death of his mother, followed closely by the announcement from his father (Christopher Plummer) that he is gay and intends to start enjoying an open, gay lifestyle. And not long after, the father develops cancer and is gone all too soon. I'm not spoiling anything, because we learn all this in the opening moments of the film, which is a series of intertwining flashbacks. One series shows the young boy experiencing his home life growing up with a distant father and a moody, unhappy mother. The other shows him observing how happy and generous and open his father has become once out of the closet. And the last shows his father's last days...when the old man was still warm, funny and open. Finally, mixed in with the flashbacks are scenes of a developing romance between McGregor and Anna, an actress and "free spirit" (Melanie Laurent, so wonderful in INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS).
Plummer is fantastic in the film, and the Oscar talk is certainly deserved. When Plummer was younger (back in the SOUND OF MUSIC DAYS)...I don't think he was a very good actor. Stiff and cold. In his old age, he's given some marvelous performances. It's as though he no longer worries about how he looks and just lets himself BE and DO whatever the part calls for. Ironically, even though he's in his `80s, he comes off more virile and passionate now than he ever did 40 years ago. And even though the costume designer thinks all old, gay men wear ridiculous scarf-type thingies...he pulls of his free-wheelin' gay lifestyle with wonderful grace. He is making up for decades of lost time, and boy, does he give it his all, this man. Parties, clubs, boyfriends, and fun. And he finally is able to develop a close relationship with his son. He has the love in his life that he always truly craved, and doesn't have to hold back for anyone.
McGregor handles these scenes very well. He's perplexed by dad, but also moved by his stories of being in the closet and arranging secret rendezvous with other men. He's angry at what his dad put his mom through...but he's also moved by the joy his father now experiences. And he does very well in the scenes with his dad at the end nears.
But the romance scenes with Laurent don't work so well. First of all, Melanie Laurent is a glowing actress, but her English is quite hard to understand. The pillow talk between these two is almost one sided, because I could so seldom understand her whispers. Her character is also quite unbelievable. She's a successful enough actress, apparently, to be put up in a huge luxury suite at a luxury hotel...yet she has lots and lots of time to gallivant around with McGregor, never needing to be on set, apparently, and never being recognized by anyone. She is more of an "idea" from the scriptwriter than a real person. Again, Laurent is not the problem...the fact that English is not her language and the character isn't believable can't be pinned on her. And McGregor seems a bit too misty-eyed in these scenes. He's such a milquetoast! And again, the clothes he's asked to wear (striped shirts dangerously close to Marcel Marceau-land) do NOT help him. One almost wonders if he needs to come out of the closet too. (Not trying to lean on stereotypes, but the thought does occur.)
And worst of all is the character of Andy, as played by Goran Visnjic (once a regular on ER). This is Plummer's steadiest boyfriend, the lover who is there at the end. Visnjic plays him so utterly unconvincingly that I almost cringed to see him. He minces about with such unbridled fervor that it feels like a Benny Hill caricature. The script is no help to him...but he takes what he has to work with it and turns it into utter garbage. I felt sorry for the other actors having to share a sound stage with him.
Overall the film has many very nice moments. It was clearly made with love by writer/director Mike Mills (apparently semi-autobiographical). But what it needed, I think, was more of a critical, dispassionate 2nd opinion from someone not quite so close to the material. Some tightening of the script, better development of the secondary characters (including Laurent's character) and a far better costume designer could easily have turned this from a three-star, soon-to-be-forgotten film into a 4.5 star, memorable exploration of the human heart.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on December 2, 2011
Format: DVDVerified Purchase
38 year old graphic designer Oliver (Ewan McGregor) meets zany, free-spirited Anna at a party, and they have a lot in common, include a past that demonstrates that they seem to be incapable of maintaining a loving relationship. At the time, Oliver is still reeling from the recent death of his father (Christopher Plummer), who shocked him four years earlier, when he came out as gay at age 75. Dad left behind his Jack Russell terrier, Arthur (who provides comic relief with his profound thoughts appearing as subtitles throughout the film), and his much younger boyfriend (Goran Visnjic).
Oliver's current story is told with frequent flashbacks to his childhood (where it was obvious to him that there was emotional detachment between his parents, though he had no idea why at the time) as well as his father's exploits after embracing his gay self. The characters are fairly realistic (The depiction of gay seniors is unheard of in mainstream films), and the acting is very good, deserving the "best actor" discussions. It's a story about love, commitment and acceptance, and it is told well, though the constant drama between Oliver and Anna frustrated me as a viewer. DVD includes a "making of" video with writer/director Mike Mills (who based Plummer's character on his father), a preliminary "teaser" trailer, and feature commentary with Mills. Four stars out of five.
5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
on January 17, 2012
Format: Amazon Instant VideoVerified Purchase
This film is an artful telling of a moving story. The actors are brilliant; the art direction and direction are spot on. It was a joy to experience this film even though so much of it is tinged with sadness.
5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
Format: DVDVerified Purchase
I want everyone to go out and watch this movie now. Honestly, this film is so powerful and moving and certainly far removed from anything I was expecting that mere words cannot convey how much I truly do adore this film. From a purely emotional standpoint, it may be the finest film I've seen this year for it brought me to a place I haven't been in a long time; completely swelled within my own realities captured by someone and something else entirely.
`Beginners' is beautiful.
`Beginners' tells the story of Oliver. Oliver is not a very lucky lover. He hasn't had a stable relationship and quite frankly, he seems allergic to them. His father has recently died, and he lives in a world consumed in beginning to understand who his father really was. Shortly after his mother's passing, Oliver's father Hal came out of the closet. Hal has been gay his whole life and yet he loved his wife and she wanted to `fix him', convinced that her love could do the trick. He lived a heterosexual life with her, but now that she was gone he wanted to explore the life he kept locked away for so long. This obviously took Oliver by surprise, but watching his father's eyes brighten and his soul open up he became to understand a sense of happiness he had never seen in his years growing up. After losing his father, Oliver has a chance meeting with the beautiful Anna. While he at first seems resistant, her charm and allure is too much for him, and soon Oliver finds himself experiencing something he didn't understand, but through memories of his father's growing spirit, Oliver is able to accept the gift he has been given.
I'm just floored at the sincerity in this film's screenplay, for the way it fleshes out these characters is just amazing. Oliver is sullen and lost yet completely consumed with this young woman who offers an answer to his apathetic sadness. Ewan McGregor is outstanding in the role; finding such depth of emotion in those eyes. Christopher Plummer is on his way to winning an Oscar, and rightfully so. He delivers a fearless performance, one that is not only brave because of subject (is it really brave to play gay nowadays?) but because of the way he just jumps right in. He builds a believable and grounded older man who is ecstatic to finally be living his life, even though he's at the end of it. But, for me, this film was all about Melanie Laurent. Her performance as Anna was so delightful, so soulful and full of sensual allure. She played with McGregor with such flawless chemistry, and yet she understood the importance of driving it home when needed; and her breakdown after moving in with Oliver was so magically believable...so soft and understated in all the right ways.
The beauty of `Beginners' comes from the way that it conveys its message with subtle touches and a real sense of being. The idea that we can learn so much from our parents is a strong guiding light here. Our parents help form who we become, whether in a good or bad way, but sometimes we miss out by disregarding their actions as not influential. Hal's decision to be open with himself and those around him affected Oliver in ways unexpected, but their impact was revolutionary. `Beginners' is, above all else, an ode to that bond between father and son; and yet there is more here that makes it even deeper and more effecting to those of us not sincerely attached to that aspect of the prose. The fact that new beginnings are possible to those who make them is a compelling argument made here as well. A friend of mine likes to use the phrase, "it's not how you start but how you finish" and I find that truth to be made so eminent in this beautiful film.
To call this a masterpiece is truly a subjective thought, since a large part of why I adore this film is for personal reasons, but from an emotional perspective, `Beginners' gets everything right.
5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
on October 26, 2011
"My father was 75 when he told me he was gay...four years later he died in this room." Oliver (McGregor) is still trying to get over the death of his mother when his father Hal (Plummer) tells him he is gay. Hal also has a much younger lover. Oliver meets a French actress and hopes she will help him through his life change. This is another example of a movie that is made by the acting. Christopher Plummer is usually good in everything, but he is fantastic in this one. Ewan McGregor also does a great job of playing a character that seems off balance the entire movie. The movie is told in a combination of flashbacks and present day and flows very smoothly between the two. While this is a story of a father and son bonding, it is also the story of a son coming to grips and trying to console his father who has cancer while dealing with everything else. All that said, it's not really a depressing movie and is definitely worth watching. Overall, a good movie with great acting. I give it a B.