Saturday, 20 August 2011


Hopscotch Films
Now Showing

One of my favourite scenes in Mike Mills' semi-autobiographical film, Beginners, sees an elderly man phoning his son in the early hours of the morning to ask the name of the music they play in the gay clubs he now frequents. "House music," the son suggests, and his dad writes it down.

After the death of his wife, Hal (Christopher Plummer), announced to his son, Oliver (Ewan McGregor), he was gay and dove head first into that lifestyle; social groups, gay bars and political activism not to mention taking a younger lover, Andy (Goran Visnjic), roughly the same age as his son.

In contrast to his father's bold assault on love and life, Oliver has always been the cautious type. But with the passing of Hal (not a spoiler: the film opens with the news and proceeds to flash back and forth in Oliver's memory, even to childhood), Oliver thinks it may be time he took a chance on love. And that chance may be with Anna (Melanie Laurent).

Anna is an actress who divides her time between LA (where Oliver lives) and New York, and is experiencing a bout of laryngitus when they meet at a costume party, where, dressed as Freud, Oliver psychoanalyses her via her handwritten notes.

Whimsical touches like that (and the subtitled dog which Oliver inherits from Hal) may not appeal to the more cynical amongst us, but I found Mills' take on love and grief both amusing and heartfelt. Mills, incidentally, is married to fellow filmmaker and mixed media artist, Miranda July, another director whose films (2005's Me, You And Everyone We Know and the forthcoming The Future) take a bollocking for being "twee".

But I say bollocks to that. Yes there's a lot of heart in Mills' film (his second), but it's not all sunshine; the new lovers' relationship struggles outside of the bubble they create for themselves in Anna's hotel room. And both are struggling with the ghost of their fathers: one dead, one living.

McGregor and Laurent have a wonderful chemistry as the lovers, as do Plummer and McGregor as father and son. Plummer has the more animated role as the elderly man discovering a new lease on life, even as he is faced with his own mortality (diagnosed with cancer not long after coming out). It's the type of role which earns a veteran actor awards attention, so don't be surprised if the Canadian scores an Oscar nod (just his second) early in 2012.

And Beginners is worthy of your attention, too. Check your cynicism at the door and follow Hal's lead, opening yourself up to the possibilities.


  1. This was a good film. Loved the performances, and the blend of the amusing and the heartfelt. There was some feedback from patrons the other day that the film was depressing. Personally, I related a little bit to Oliver, so I found it inspiring and uplifting. Melanie Laurent is one of the most beautiful women I have ever seen, and that dog was just so cute. I felt it was a little flat, and a that few of the techniques were self indulgent, but these are minor quibbles, considering how personal the film is for Mills.

  2. I had been looking forward to Beginners since it screened at Toronto almost a year ago. Thankfully I wasn't disappointed. I can understand how some might not like the whimsical touches but not how they would find it depressing; if anything the film's message is 'embrace life and love'. Still, everyone gets their own message from a film, that's the beauty of the art.