Beginners Review


Beginners is a snooze. Plain and simple. And I really don’t like dismissing it so bluntly because it’s a very personal story. Director Mike Mills based Beginners, at least in part, on his own life—specifically, the material dealing with the main character’s elderly father who comes out of the closet after his wife dies. I just wish the film focused more on that material. Instead, it’s meant to supplement this overly-cutesy and just plain boring love story. There’s nothing interesting or exceptional about it, and their problems seem completely of their own making. Christopher Plummer gives a good performance as the gay father, and the dog in the film is really cute, but that’s pretty much it.

The stand-in for Mills is Oliver (Ewan McGregor), an illustrator in his late thirties. He’s in the process of grieving his late father, Hal (Christopher Plummer), when he meets Anna (Melaine Laurent). She’s a French actress on the road too much to really settle down. He’s understandably a little down, but he realizes it’s not much of a change from his usual attitude. He’s not exactly the happiest guy, and he has a serious fear of commitment which stems from the chilly relationship between his parents. And though Anna seems different, it’s not clear he can overcome his insecurities to find true happiness with her.

The film employs a non-linear timeline to tell this story. It’s a technique I’m sick of, and though it doesn’t exactly take away from the film, I really don’t think it adds much either. There are a couple nice moments in which we see Oliver pick up some quirks from his parents, but on the whole, the idea that one’s relationship insecurities come from their family history isn’t revelatory or all that interesting to watch.

There’s another issue—an overdose of cute. Take, for instance, Oliver and Anna’s first encounter. It’s a Halloween party. He’s dressed as Freud and plants himself near a couch with his pad and pen to analyze people. Anna plops down with her own pad, having to write in order to communicate due to a severe case of laryngitis. It’s the kind of thing that only happens in movies—specifically in these indy romantic comedies. I felt like Beginners was striving so hard to be (500) Days of Summer, but it doesn’t touch Marc Webb’s film, which used a jumbled chronology to great effect and earned its quirkiness.

Ewan McGregor sleepwalks through the role of Oliver. The guy just has no charisma—an inexcusable flaw for an actor like McGregor. Melanie Laurent doesn’t come close to the level of acting on display in Inglourious Basterds, but she does her best. Christopher Plummer, however, is quite good, and is understandably getting some serious Oscar buzz. Hal is a three-dimensional individual with a warm heart, a great deal of wisdom, and some mistakes from early in his life that make him feel real remorse. Plummer never plays into stereotypes that you might expect from a character like this, and nothing about his story feels inauthentic. I’m not sure Plummer will actually win an Oscar (I’m also not sure he deserves the win for this performance), but he’ll get a nomination, and it’ll be hard for me to object to that.

Take away Plummer’s work, and Beginners is a completely unremarkable film. The romance is sloppily put together, and McGregor does a disservice to his colleagues. Apparently, I’m in the minority on this one, but it’s hard for me to get behind something so uninspired and slight.

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