Rookies in a Relationship
Beginners is one of those films that blows away any preconceived notions you may have formed from the synopsis and trailer, being full of heart and emotions in its unconventional storytelling techniques that just draws you into the film and its characters. For writer director Mike Mills, the premise is based on his own parents, where with the passing of his mom came the revelation by his dad who had decided to come out of the closet. Questions will undoubtedly race through anyone's mind, much less the son's, as to why and how the couple decided to stay together despite obvious knowledge of one's sexual orientation that this heterosexual relationship just wouldn't work out naturally, but that it did was nothing short of amazing, and amazing is the word to describe this film.
It's unique presentation utilized still shots like photographs from memory, wry humour, flashbacks galore and plenty of narration from the protagonist Oliver, played by Ewan McGregor, who is at the crossroads of his life with the death of his mom Georgia (Mary Page Keller), and his dad Hal (Christopher Plummer) revealing that he's gay. In a way it's one depressing blow after another, especially when his mother's death seemed in a way a release for his dad to finally lead the remaining years of his life in as honest fashion as possible. In a poignant scene it reminded us of romance and attitudes of the days bygone, where marriage is an institution, and homosexuality thought to be an illness that can be addressed and cured through well, holy matrimony. At least the intention is pure, and laid the path for us today to question themes about commitment, and love itself.
And love served all the subplots in the film, such as that between a very different mom and dad, that between Oliver and Hal as son and father with the former concerned about and caring for his father's twilight years toward the inevitable, that between Hal and his younger lovers, Oliver and his mom from whom he seemed to have been imparted her sense of dry humour, and with Oliver himself falling for a French actress Anna (Melanie Laurent) who also has issues of her own to contend with. The narrative shifts through time constantly but never at any time leave you high and dry figuring about just where in the story you find yourself in, with the editing being superb in execution for such a result. Not to forget that the father's pet dog interacts and has some of the best lines (yes) in the film - you'll probably fall in love with the Jack Russell if you haven't already.
What's made a lot more poignant, perhaps in more personal terms, is how one can never be too sure about one's romantic relationship with another, with a level of ambiguity setting in, and apprehension and hesitation playing a part in creating self-doubt, that what is working well, could be taken apart rather effortlessly not because of ego or envy or the usual issues, but that of just being clueless. Ewan McGregor and Melanie Laurent both share this wonderful chemistry together so much so you'll be rooting for their characters to stay together, and weep silently with an aching heart when they don't. Equally Ewan shows how effortlessly it can be with his chemistry with Christopher Plummer as well, and brings home to my mind similar care-taking efforts personally experienced. Then there's Keegan Boos playing the young Oliver and Mary Page Keller as the mom whose segments together with its dark humour left me in stitches, and left me wanting a lot more.
Beginners possesses that sense of charm, wit, and all round great performance to complement that unique narrative of an unconventional story touching on how relationships with people shape our lives. The film comes highly recommended, so don't let it slip away from the big screen before you got a chance to catch it. Easily one of my favourites of the year, entering my shortlist as one of the best this year has to offer during a time when bigger films still garner a lot more attention and screenings.