By Dan Skip Allen
Beginners is a film from 2010 starring Ewan McGregor as a man dealing with the loss of his father while also having relationship problems. The film jumps back and forth in time with a framing device. Directed and written by Mike Mills, it's an ode to father-son relationships. The McGregor and Plummer relationship is what drives this film. And it's beautiful and sad all at the same time. They anchor this beautiful film. It's a breath of fresh air to see something different.
Plummer's character comes out as gay in the first 5 minutes of the film. He wants to explore a different side of himself. So he joins a bunch of pride groups and gets a boyfriend, played by Goran Visnjic. Plummer's character goes to nightclubs and listens to new and interesting music. This is all a revelation for him because of his advanced age. Plummer won his first and only Academy Award for this role. He does so many different things with this character that he's never done before. He usually plays strong domineering characters such as General Chang in Star Trek: The Undiscovered Country and the role of Baron Von Trapp, the role he's most known for, in The Sound of Music. (Although he's not a big fan of that role himself.) He plays a more soft warm-hearted character in Beginners. It was nice to see him get recognized for doing something different in his career.
McGregor's character is also dealing with a new relationship as well. This new burgeoning relationship takes him away from his ailing father. Melanie Laurent (Inglorious Basterds) plays a quiet woman, but she brings out a more adventurous side in Mcgregor's character. This helps him be freer, albeit not as free as his father though. All of this drama makes the film interesting and real.
As far as dramas go, Beginners is on the lighter side even though it has some serious subject matters, mainly dealing with the father's illness and eventual death. The romantic side of the film is nice as well. It has some quirky moments like at a costume party or when they meet at a bookstore picking out books together or eating tacos at a food cart. The relationship between Plummer's character and Visnjic is still an exploration because of the illness and hospitalization of Plummer's character.
Juggling multiple storylines in the film, Mills balances them all very nicely. Using photos to narrate parts of the backstory is an effective tool to talk about Plummers character's past, why he is the way he is, and what makes him tick today. Coming out was a thing he did early in life, but he had to close off this part of his life from an early age. Eventually, he got married, but that ended when his wife and Megregor's character's mother died. He was free once again.
Beginners has a different feel and look to it than other films. It has a little grain to it and a darker look. The cinematographer Kasper Tuxen doesn't have a flashy style like some of the greats, but it's a more real and raw style. It allows the film to look lived in, like this could be a real-world, with real people and real-world problems. The cinematography is a strength of the film. As well as the score or music. There is always music in the background or melancholy of light stringed instruments playing. This is nice to the ears while all the drama and romance is happening on screen.
Beginners isn't the most normal romantic film drama or the most interesting. It has a feel of something real. Anybody could be living in this world that transpired on screen. It's a little different, but that's good. All films shouldn't be the same. Mills did something different with two genres that are pretty straightforward most of the time. It's nice to see a different take on familiar tropes. Plummer is fantastic in a different role, but his relationship with his son doesn't feel forced or contrived. It just seems perfect. That is the real strength of this quirky film.
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