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Beginners - Cinemaholic Movie Reviews
one person's obsessive addiction to film
Directing: A
Acting: A
Writing: A
Cinematography: B
Editing: A

Beginners seems like the kind of movie that could easily be overlooked, which is a shame. This is a story with a singular voice, in a sea of stories imitating (or remaking, or rebooting, or rehashing) others.

Where else are you going to find a movie about a man (Ewan McGregor, filled with barely controlled emotion) dealing with the death of his father (Christopher Plummer) who came out at the age of 75? And, unlike virtually every other film these days with gay major characters, Beginners is skillfully written, without even a hint of triteness or cliche; delivered by the cast with realistic nuance and tenderness; and edited and shot with a polish that belies its apparent budget.

Oliver (McGregor) is a lonely man, sort of floating through the months after the death of his father. He is really the focal point of this story, a refreshingly open-minded and understanding straight man whose only issue with his father's sexuality is understandably how he could have stayed married to his mother for 44 years, clear until her death several years before. As Oliver reflects on his many failed relationships, he very tentatively embarks on a relationship with a young French woman (a lovely Melanie Laurent) he meets at a party his concerned friends dragged him to.

As this goes on, we are treated to two different types of flashbacks, both of which lend insight into how Oliver's parents influenced him. All flashbacks of his mother (Mary Page Keller, making the best of a part that is arguably the most fun) are from when Oliver was a child, spending most of his time with her because his father was always at work. All flashbacks of his father, Hal, are of the four years of his life after he came out, giving Oliver a sense of who his father really was for the first time. Both that and Hal's terminal lung cancer diagnosis, somewhat ironically, are what makes Oliver closer to his father than he ever was as a child.

These recent years with his father very much inform Oliver's choices and how he approaches his life and relationships -- even including Hal's non-monogamous but happy relationship with a younger man (Goran Visnijc). Script writer Mike Mills does a wonderful job of integrating these connections without them ever seeming forced.

So there's a lot of "beginnings" actually going on here, most notably Oliver with a new relationship he feels unequipped for: "It's like I lost the instructions, or I never had them," he says. And we experience this intercut with the new period of Hal's life, discovering freedom as an out gay man, in spite of how old he is. It's all often very sad, of course, but thanks to Oscar-worthy performances by both McGregor and Plummer, also alternately funny and truly touching. You'll want a hankie for this one, but you'll leave satisfied from having needed it.


Overall: A
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