Written and directed by Mills, the film follows Oliver (Ewan McGregor) as he navigates life right after his widowed father Hal (Christopher Plummer) passed away. Before Hal died, he shared a secret with his son. After 44 years of marriage to Oliver’s mother, Hal opens up to Oliver and informs his that he’s gay. Hal then, at 75 years old, lives the rest of his days as openly gay man. This revelation brings father and son closer then they have ever been. Once Hal died, Oliver is left with nothing but a house full of his father’s belongings, memories of seeing his father happy in his final days and a string of his own broken relationships. Oliver then meets Anna (Melanie Laurent) and tries to encompass the lessons his father taught him about loving and living life.
The story is told through three different interwoven time-lines. Time line A deals with Oliver in the present while dealing with the aftermath of his father’s death, meeting Anna and just generally trying to make it through each day. His blooming relationship with Anna and his coming out of the blackness of mourning prompts flashbacks to time-lines B and C.
Time-line B deals with Oliver as he cares for his father. This time-line basically starts when Hal tells Oliver that he’s gay, and continues through to Hal’s death.
Time-line C goes back even further to Oliver’s childhood where his parents relationship is practically non-existent. His mother (played by Mary Page Keller) seems to work at the marriage but his father is never there.
Weaving three different time-lines can be a risky move, but here it really lends itself to the finished product. There are pieces of the puzzle to be picked up though out the film and as it progresses you’re able to see the big picture. This film certainly doesn’t follow your typical point A to point B storytelling formula, but if it did, it wouldn’t work. This is a film that takes you on a journey. Journeys can be messy and jumbled and make you feel like you don’t know what you’re doing but the end of the journey is beautiful and worth the trip. This film is exactly like that.
Ewan McGregor was able to capture this character so well. This film is a semi-autobiographical account of Director Mike Mills’ experiences so in essence, Oliver is Mills, or a loose interpretation there of. Having seen McGregor and Mills interact after the showing of this film, the chemistry between the two was clear as day. Of course McGregor was able to pull this off because they seemed like the best of friends.
Christopher Plummer is gold. He always is. Seeing him play a freewheeling, bursting-with-life gay man seemed normal. He brings such magnetism to the screen that you can’t help but be ensnared in his web. Melanie Laurent’s Anna was the fresh breeze to Oliver’s stale life. She is a natural beauty and that’s exactly what she played in this film. I don’t recall seeing her plastered in make-up at all and that, in itself, is refreshing. She has a complex easiness about her. She’s the type where on the surface what you see is what you get, but underneath is something else entirely. The standout star of the film however was Arthur, the Jack Russell terrier. The dog actually ended up with an integral part in the film and you’ll see why when you watch it. Arthur helps Oliver through the turmoil of loss and the uncertainty of beginning a new relationship all with the understanding and love only man’s best friend can offer.
The subject matter may seem quite heavy, but don’t let the synopsis fool you. Beginners is a rich tapestry of emotion. Humor and sadness were layered with a humanity that gives the audience something to hold on to. You feel involved in this film, you don’t just watch. The camera work used puts the viewer right in the room with the characters so they can experience what the characters are experiencing. The film also uses certain devices that in other movies may not work so well in other films, namely, McGregor’s narration. Throughout the film the narration is cut with imagery that works as transitional pieces. This could become downright gaudy and irritating in other films but here it works because it’s not overused and actually plays a part in the overall story.
Beginners is a beautifully told story about love, loss and acceptance and the messy road everyone has to travel on their respective destination.