The Movie Date: Beginners

It’s Wednesday and time for another edition of The Movie Date! The Movie Date is a new weekly feature where we discuss movies that may appeal to the YA audience. My husband Andrew is back again with another movie review to share. This week’s movie date is Beginners, a 2011 film directed by Mike Mills.

If your parents split up, does that make you reluctant to fall in love yourself? That’s the question posed by this sincere, mature, witty romantic comedy/drama that originally came out about a year ago.

The twist here is that it’s not really the story of a divorce at all. Rather, it’s about 40-year-old Oliver (Ewan McGregor) discovering, upon the death of his mother, that his father Hal, aged 75, has secretly been gay his whole life. With his wife is out of the picture, Hal has decided to come out of the closet in a big way: “I don’t want to just be theoretically gay,” he says, “I want to do something about it.” Sadly, no sooner does Hal (Christopher Plummer in an Oscar-winning role) get a boyfriend and join the community than he gets bad news: he’s got cancer and has only a few years to live.

We actually meet Oliver after his father’s passing; clearly shaken by the loss, he’s in a daze as he packs up some of dad’s belongings and befriends his wistful Jack Russell terrier. To shake Oliver’s gloom, some friends drag him to a hipster costume party, where he meets Anna (Mélanie Laurent of Inglourious Basterds), a sympathetic woman who can read the sorrow in his eyes. Anna has laryngitis, and like Holly Hunter in The Piano can only communicate through writing, jotting affectionate comments on a notepad. They part ways but Anna immediately calls him—still unable to say a word. “I’ve always wanted to have a phone call with somebody who doesn’t talk,” Oliver responds.

A gentle, tentative romance slowly blossoms between them, and the whiff of new love causes Oliver to reflect on his parents’ affectionate if artificial marriage (Mom had always known about Hal’s yearnings but married him anyway). As Oliver begins to get cold feet and their relationship struggles to stay alive, we see Hal in flashbacks fighting to survive as well. Ultimately he accepts his fate and, like his son, sheds nary a tear.

On paper this may sound like Garden State or Elizabethtown: depressed young man bereaved by loss is nursed to psychological health by a Manic Pixie Dream Girl. But rather than being bubbly and supportive, Anna has her own issues and fears, and is as reluctant as Oliver to commit to a relationship that might not last forever. This is one of those wonderful and realistic romances where the only thing keeping a couple apart is themselves. The relationship story struck me as somehow vital and fresh, perhaps because Laurent and McGregor are such fine actors and have a wonderful chemistry here. The mood here is a lot like (500) Days of Summer, with playful, quirky love balancing out the poignancy of impending loss.

As music video director Mike Mills’ second film, Beginners is told in a boldly graphic style. Oliver narrates several photo montages explaining what life was like in his parents’ day—and in his own. We’re also treated to profound and bittersweet cartoon sketches created by Oliver as a designer and illustrator. The film overlays Hal coming out of the closet with Oliver coming out of his shell, neither of them young yet both of them beginners.

Beginners is now available on DVD.


6 thoughts on “The Movie Date: Beginners

  1. Ooo….this sounds good. Bravo to your hubs! One of the most well done movie reviews I’ve read. I totally missed out on this movie last year. I shall stalk my Red Box.

  2. loveyalitem says:

    I enjoyed this film but couldn’t help but be fairly constantly distracted by whether or not Ewan McGregor was sufficiently hiding his British accent. Christopher Plummer was amazing though. And Cosmo the dog too.

  3. I’d never heard of this movie! Intriguing! Thanks for sharing! Btw, hubby and I went to see Moonrise Kingdom and absolutely loved it! Great recommendation!

  4. BermudaOnion says:

    I wonder how I missed that one! It looks good to me – especially the little Jack Russell. 🙂

  5. VeganYANerds says:

    This sounds quite sweet and sad, and thanks so much for bringing it to my attention as I’d never even heard of it!

  6. […] the best of these cases, the woman develops problems and complexities of her own (as in Beginners, reviewed here), and thankfully that’s exactly what happens here. Though she’s quite literally a […]

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