Whimsical, autobiographical drama from Mike Mills, starring Ewan McGregor and Christopher Plummer
You cannot accuse Beginners of lacking ambition. Directed by Thumbsucker's Mike Mills, this wistful, intensely autobiographical drama combines a love story, a reflection on the ties that bind the generations and a history lesson on the changing mores of American society over the past half century. The wonder is that he pulls it off with such fluency.
Ewan McGregor is Oliver, a graphic designer whose father Hal (Christopher Plummer) has recently died from cancer. At the age of 75, the widowed, long-married Hal had come out as gay and enthusiastically embraced the life he had long denied himself. Flashbacks reveal the fondness in his relationship with boyfriend Andy (ER’s Goran Visnjic) and his closeness to Oliver. Plummer steals the show with the zest and light touch he brings to his portrait of a game septuagenarian savouring every moment of life and love. In the present, Oliver’s tentative relationship with French actress Anna (Melanie Laurent) is tenderly infused with the spirit of a father who believed that it was never too late for the pursuit of happiness. McGregor is convincing as the wounded, wary Oliver. You believe he has always been a withdrawn observer of life, torn between joining the party or allowing the parade to pass him by. Laurent bewitches like some nouvelle vague discovery from the 1960s.
Beginners has echoes of Woody Allen in its sardonic humour and hints of Amelie in a visual style that incorporates detailed montage sequences capturing particular moments in time or key events in the American gay rights movement. Oliver’s constant companion is his late father’s Jack Russell dog, whose thoughts intermittently appear as subtitles on screen. Whimsicality runs through every frame of the film, which may make it too self-conscious and meandering for some tastes. Incurable romantics will clutch it to their hearts with gratitude.
General release from Fri 22 July.