Beginners is a semi-autobiographical film written and directed by Mike Mills about how to find love in relationships. It is also about how much ones upbringing influences their lives as an adult. A young man must deal with his father recently being diagnosed with cancer and come to terms that his 75 year old father is just now coming out-of-the-closet.
Oliver Fields (Ewan McGregor) is a graphic designer whose parents were married for 44 years before his mother passed away. At the time of his mother’s death his father Hal (Christopher Plummer) announced that he was gay. Hal confessed that he has been gay since he was thirteen but when Oliver’s mother asked him to marry him he said yes. Oliver accepts his father’s confession just fine but has a harder time accepting that his parents had a loveless marriage for so long.
Oliver is sad and lonely when he finds out that his father now has cancer so he seeks out companionship from his dog. His luck is about to change when he attends a costume party and meets a girl. Even though he was trying to put on a happy face for the party she could tell that he was sad behind the costume. The two connected immediately despite the fact she has laryngitis which prevented her from being able to speak that night, forcing her to write down her words to him.
The girl he met is Anna (Mélanie Laurent), a French actress who happened to be passing through town. Because she is an actress she has learned to read people very well, which is likely the reason why the two hit it off so strongly. Oliver has a history of failed relationships but he is hoping this one will be different.
Beginners frequently flashes back to his childhood with interactions with his mother. Through these flashbacks you understand why he acts they way he does. Oliver experiences similar situations as a child as he does as an adult. One example is as a child his mother would pretend to shoot him and he would act dead, Anna also pretends to shoot him as well. These are subtle correlations but they explain his personality and influences of his upbringing.
In Oliver’s mind, he is always comparing the present to his past. Such as whom the president was when his father was born and who it is now. Because his profession is drawing he remembers the small details in people. He remembers what Anna’s face looks like when she is happy or what it is like when she is crying. He can recall exactly what her eyes, feet and ears look like.
Ewan McGregor had the head role but his character is not the most memorable, to no fault of his own. Mélanie Laurent kept reminding me of a French Penelope Cruz; she was witty, seductive and genuine. But the standout performance in Beginners goes to Christopher Plummer. He did an amazing job playing the man with a delightful outlook on a new lifestyle while he approached death from battling cancer.
The performances from the cast in Beginners outshine the story itself. The storyline is sluggish, not because of the non-linear structure or the lack of an antagonist but from the lack of depth. I still found myself rooting for the characters even though ultimately the story falls short. Because it if there is one thing Beginners has, it is character.