Beginners

Man, Woman, Gay Father and a Cute Dog

         
 

15 June 2011| No Comments     by Sean Chavel

 

Not a bad movie without merits but the melancholy just becomes too depleting. Beginners concerns a gifted artist played by Ewan McGregor (“Big Fish”) and his terminally ill and gay father played by Christopher Plummer (“Inside Man”). The script slides back and forth between the final months before his dad passed and the two months after the funeral where he meets a lovely, but sometimes depressed, Melanie Laurent. The film has a bunch of symbolic flash cuts to inorganic objects and beautifully arranged American time capsule photos (Still I’m confused what a shot of a quarter, then a bunch of coins, was supposed to mean). There is a dog who trots along with McGregor everywhere that reminds me that sometimes they should give out movie awards to special animal trainers.

McGregor recalls his unhappy youth (third interlocking narrative) when he dealt with a mother left alone while his father was out working, or being anywhere but home. Mother got some pecking kisses. But Plummer eloquently explains their 44-year marriage had love but just not passion. McGregor is not so sure but he supports his father. He admired his mother effortlessly. McGregor is and always has been a good son. This is not a movie about resentment towards parents. That makes it different.

Yet McGregor’s love life has always suffered. But he meets a terrific girl at a costume party: McGregor pretends to be Freud and Laurent is momentarily a silent patient who scribbles her thoughts on a notepad (she has laryngitis). They go home, try some gentle and unhurried kissing, and decide to sleep together with their clothes on. Laurent is playing a variant of herself, a French actress always in transient who has become accustomed to living in hotels. Laurent, a supple actress, makes the most of what she’s given, but I never really understood the factors of her “actress” career and why she happened to be in Los Angeles – not really doing much.

That’s such a small issue. One of the slightly more bothersome issues is to why it is such a fictional Los Angeles. I am a critic out of Los Angeles. This is not what this city looks like. It is not a desolate and vacant city, nor a quiet one. Perhaps it kinda makes sense because McGregor seems to only go out at night, or we see him working on sketches at his non-windowed office. My problem is how downcast the city is made to look.

Never mind. He gets used to being with Laurent, but when they get close to each other and she is invited to move in with him, their mounting depression stacks high. Perhaps two depressives should never get together and that opposites are better fits. McGregor can be such a vibrant and virile gentleman in his other performances – he’s sexually charming with an emphasis on the sexual (check out “Young Adam,” “Down with Love” and “Moulin Rouge!”). But here he’s polite, his shoulders pulled back, his chin down. When he introduces Laurent to his home he meekly shows her around and touches her like a piece of fragile jewelry. McGregor and Laurent talk a lot, first happy and then despondently. And McGregor talks one on one with his lockstep dog who talks back but only in subtitles.

Droves of curious audiences might go just to see Plummer who is very, very good. There is Oscar talk already. I suppose that the son/father relationship is just as important if more so than the boy/girl relationship. McGregor watches his father succumb into stage four cancer (“Dad, there isn’t a stage five,” he says with concern when Dad becomes too active). McGregor meets all of Plummer’s gay friends and watches Dad get involved with gay pride activism. He drives Dad around shopping. In voice-over, McGregor talks about sadness and how in the beginning of time there was no such thing as sadness.

You can’t blame this autobiographical drama by Mike Mills for not having fully rounded characters. But you come out of the theater with a doleful heart. Still, there are moments of strong poignancy. After death, a photo montage is shown of the death certificate and related credit card cancellations for the son to deal with. The heart aches, but at least it aches honestly.

105 Minutes. Rated R.

DRAMA / GAY ORIENTATION / SPRING AWAKENING

Film Cousins: “Kiss of the Spider Woman” (1985); “My Beautiful Laundrette” (1986); “Old Joy” (2006); “A Single Man” (2009).

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Sean Chavel

About The Author / Sean Chavel

Sean Chavel is a Hollywood based author and movie reviewer. He is the Executive Director of flickminute.com, a new website that has adapted the movie review site genre by introducing moodbased and movie experience based reviews.

 

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