Beginners is a wonderfully sweet and sad film from writer/director Mike Mills who is perhaps better known as a Graphic Designer and Music Video Director. His past comes across in a very pleasing way in Beginners, a film which doesn’t shy away from unusual ‘arty’ cinematography and surprising pop up images. The film follows the lives of Oliver (Ewan McGregor) and his father Hal (Christopher Plummer) mostly towards the end of Hal’s life and shortly after his death. After the death of his wife, Hal comes out as being gay at the age of 75 and wants to experience a lifetimes worth of homosexual activities in the short time he has left. Oliver is mostly supportive of his father but feels distanced from him as a result of their lack of time together in the past. There is also an undercurrent of animosity towards his father as a result of seeing his mother’s unhappiness throughout their marriage.
For the entirety of the film I either had a huge smile or sad look on my face. The film is full of emotion at both ends of the spectrum. There are some incredibly light and happy moments which often come with the interaction of Oliver and his dog or Oliver and a woman he meets, Anna (Melanie Laurent). Their love affair is filled with the same diametrically opposed emotion as the film itself. As is so often the case, this film features more laughs than most out and out comedies. There is subtle humour woven throughout and it boils over into full on laugh out loud moments on a number of occasions.
All three principle actors are superb. Melanie Laurent, in her first English language role is both frothy and seductive but has a deep lying cheerless existence while her accent is very appealing. Ewan McGregor is equally as good playing a depressed graphic artist. His American accent is also much better than his English accent! He shows emotional depth which I haven’t seen from him before. While the two aforementioned actors are both excellent, it has been Christopher Plummer who has drawn the most critical acclaim, winning both the BAFTA and Oscar awards for Best Supporting Actor. His performance is sublime. He manages to convey his excitement for his new life as well as the sadness that his life is coming to an end when it is only just beginning.
The film is full of hopeful optimism as well as gloomy sadness and is directed and acted wonderfully throughout. I thoroughly recommend it.