In many ways, I came into Beginners expecting a comedy. Son finds out after his Mother’s death that his Father has been gay his entire life. He learns from his Dad (Hal) about embracing life and relationships in the final four years of Hal’s life despite Hal not being there for his childhood. Oliver becomes close to his Dad and is there for him in Hal’s declining health, but everyone can see that these are the best four years of Hal’s life.
Interspersed through these touching moments with his father, we are brought into the present as Oliver begins an odd but lively new relationship. Hal takes what he learned from his father and finally applies them to his life. Of course, he must take the big risk which he has already shown in his previous relationships to be too much to handle.
Throughout this whole film I was smiling. Sure, there were a lot of sad moments, but I suppose I knew everything would work out in the end. In many instances, that’s what you need in a film: something that surprises you but still follows down a path well-traveled. Every character has their own flourishes and clearly show that Mike Mills, the writer and director, had a great grasp of the material considering that it is based off of his real life experiences with his own father. Also, I couldn’t help but to see some of the unique characteristics in Anna as are in Mills’ wife, the ever wonderful Miranda July.
Ewan McGregor has always been hit or miss for me, but he surprised me in creating an easily identifiable character that you follow. Oliver thinks big and you want to will him into succeeding. He doesn’t always manage it, but he takes it and moves on. Christopher Plummer also provides a unique Character in Hal. For someone so distant throughout his son’s entire life, he suddenly explodes into life and community once he begins living his gay life. Mélanie Laurent provides a character that is beautifully weird, and I couldn’t help but to identify with her. She has a thing about nibbling on people for no real reason… and I totally do that.
Another way I identified with the film was with a character named Elliot because, well, that’s my name (plus a t). At one point, Elliot takes Oliver out to spray paint the town with graffiti (Oliver using hilariously social conscious messages). He tags a place with “LEIT”. This was of course before you found out his name was Elliot, and he spells it out as L-E-it which I’ve totally done. My favorite is El-E-Yacht.
The film does reuse some of the same footage as somewhat of a flashback which I sort of have a problem with. Plus, a dog talks which works and doesn’t work at certain points. We also get peeks into Hal’s work-life which I would have liked to get a bit deeper of an insight into.
Overall, this is a feelgood film. It has all of the right quirks. And, appropriately enough, I came out of the theater to a double rainbow in the sky. It made my evening, and I’m continuing to think about it.