Beginners is a personal, emotional film about love. Director Mike Mills (Thumbsucker) knows the tone he wants to set from the very beginning, and he gets pretty creative and almost playful at times. But he lets the story go where it needs to go and at times it’s sad or perhaps funny, but it always feels honest. Beginners is about all kinds of love and beginning something new no matter what stage you are at in your life.
Oliver (Ewan McGregor) is a damaged guy who starts a relationship with Anna (Melanie Laurent), an erratic and irreverent French actress, only a few months after his father, Hal (Christopher Plummer), has died. As they try to see where this attraction goes and if it has real meaning, Oliver lets his mind spend some time in the past thinking about his parents and their marriage, and what he witnessed as a child. And it is Oliver we follow through this story and we find out how distant his parents seemed to be when they were around each other and how unpredictable and unconventional his mother was.
And once she passes away, Hal comes out of the closet at the age of 75 years old. And instantly he is re-energized and full of life, and even starts having an open relationship with a much younger man. He begins to live the life he should have been living all along. And even when his fight with cancer finally ends, Hal was able to show his son how to act if he ever finds love and to hold on to it for as long as you can.
The chemistry between all the actors is terrific. Laurent and McGregor seem so comfortable with each other on-screen. In every scene they share, everything feels so natural between the two, and that is credit to some great casting. The relationship between Hal and Oliver is the most interesting and I wish more time would have been spent on that. Plummer is excellent as Hal who at a very late age has a completely different outlook on life. And just like the man he plays, Plummer seems to get only better the older he gets.
And McGregor’s performance is right there with him. His character is discovering what love really is and, unfortunately, he never got to see it until his father came out. But I guess it’s better late than never. All three of these characters are beginning something new in their life when it comes to relationships and finding out what love is and how it can change your life. None of them leave unaffected by it.
Mills creates an intelligent story about love and makes it feel realistic. Even with his tricky storytelling by jumping from Oliver with Anna to the time he spent with his father before he passed away to even when he was a child, the film works and feels connected at every piece. As the audience, you don’t feel separated from the characters or their progress. You get the pleasure of watching Oliver discover love and be able to move forward as he learns more than a few lessons not only from his father but Anna as well.
Beginners is a lot like love itself: it will take you through some tough, confusing times, but leave you inspired and hopeful.