Thursday, July 7, 2011

Movie with Abe: Beginners

Directed by Mike Mills
Released June 3, 2011

There are many films about two people meeting and falling in love. Yet somehow amidst all the onscreen romances that exist, it’s rare to find one union that’s truly compelling and believable from its very inception, and continually real throughout its cinematic duration. Recently, “Blue Valentine” did a magnificent job of capturing one couple’s honeymoon bliss at the very start of the relationship. “Beginners” does the same thing, yet manages to hold on to the magic without fabricating anything for its entire run, creating a beautiful and magnetic portrait of two loners brought together and helpless not to give romance a try.

“Beginners” is in many ways two films bundled into one. In the present, Oliver (Ewan McGregor) meets the lovely Anna (Mélanie Laurent) at a party, and the two instantly click. As his relationship progresses, Oliver is constantly reminded of his late father Hal (Christopher Plummer), recalling the months leading up to his death when the widowed Hal lived out his life-long homosexuality and hid his progressively worsening cancer from all those closest to him save for his son. Pairing the two stories together, interwoven almost without any signification of change between time periods, is an extraordinarily effective way of getting at the root of just who Oliver is. The character analysis is extremely subtle, explaining Oliver’s motivations for an action or a decision with Anna through a flashback to his childhood or to his time with his father without feeling disruptive or preachy in the slightest sense.

The film’s strongest scene, to rival the song and dance routine from “Blue Valentine,” comes when a Freud-costumed Oliver first meets a laryngitis-stricken Anna at a costume party and cultivates a bond with her before she even utters a single word. It’s that nonverbal communication that makes McGregor and Laurent such a marvelous pair. McGregor is a melancholy hero and a venerable narrator for the film, creating humor out of self-reflection and portraying depression and lack of direction with honesty. Laurent says so much before she even speaks that when she first opens her mouth she already feels like a developed character, even though her background and personal life remain a mystery for most of the film. Plummer is charming and endearing as Hal, brilliantly inhabiting a doomed role with gusto and energy. “Beginners” is full of sweet, tender moments and exceptional dialogue, alternating between heartwarming and heartbreaking with ease and grace. It’s a wonderful love story and an equally poetic alternative father-son drama, and a lovely film all-around.


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