Arriving smack dab in the middle of the summer blockbuster season, Mike Mills’ “Beginners,” a sweet and touching homage to his father, is a welcome breath of fresh, quirky air. It’s a film that broaches many of the “big” subjects –love, sexuality, death – with a light, refreshing tone.
The story is a simple one. Oliver (Ewan McGregor) has recently lost his father Hal (Christopher Plummer) to cancer. Oliver’s parents, we learn, had been married for many years until his mother’s death. Six months after her death, Hal came out of the closet and began to explore what life as an out, gay man was like. He met new friends, had new experiences, met a new lover (Goran Visnjic), and all with the gusto of a young man learning his way in the world.
Soon after, Hal discovers he has cancer, but it doesn’t stop him from experiencing all his new life has to offer.
These events have already occurred at the start of the film, but are recalled in flashback. With his father’s extremely needy Jack Russell terrier, Arthur, as his only companion, Oliver tries to come to grips with his loss and forge ahead in his own unsatisfactory life.
One evening at a party, Oliver meets Anna (“Inglorious Bastard’s” Melanie Laurent), and the two embark on a complicated love affair. Both are saddled with grief, which makes it difficult for them to connect.
The film takes it’s time. The pace allows us to feel the same sense of inertia that Oliver finds himself living in while he slowly begins to discover his way. However, the film never feels slow.
Primarily a graphic designer, writer/director Mills has a wonderfully unique touch that never feels forced or showy. His use of graphics, still photographs and animation have the potential to feel pretentious, yet that isn’t the case here. Used as logical extensions of character and emotion, they feel true and necessary. Even the use of subtitles to give voice to Arthur the dog’s thoughts is delightful.
To top it all off are the wonderful performances of both Ewan McGregor and Christopher Plummer. They are amazing as father and son, giving life to this unique relationship, each one giving the other a lesson on starting over.
If you’re in the market for something wonderful (and why shouldn’t you be?), make it a point to seek out this lovely film.
BEGINNERS Dir/Scr: Mike Mills; Stars: Ewan McGregor, Christopher Plummer, Melanie Laurent Rated R