When was the last time you saw a really good small film and wanted to run home and tell all your friends about it? For me, it had been a while, but here I am running home and telling all of you to take a break from the summer blockbusters and go see "Beginners."
I admit before I saw the film, I had certain reservations about it. For one thing, it features a dog. And not just any dog, but a talking dog (well, technically he's sub-titled). Add to that a prominent voice-over, several visual gimmicks, and a quirky French girlfriend and my eye-roll-o-meter was on high alert.
So why did I rush out to see this film in the first place, you may ask. Well, firstly, it features three actors that I like a lot and who are terrific in it: Ewan McGregor, Mélanie Laurent and Christopher Plummer (who in his 70's is finally getting the props he deserves). Secondly, I thought the premise of a father who comes out as gay late in life after his wife dies was pretty cool.
As it turns out, this is only one small aspect of the story. The movie is much more about Oliver (Ewan), a single graphic designer, dealing with the recent death of his father, Hal (Plummer) while he embarks on a relationship with French actress Anna (Laurent). As the romance develops, the film flashes back to Oliver's experiences with his father as Hal acquires a new lover, new friends and a new outlook on life, as well as to Oliver's boyhood memories of his lonely, off-kilter mother (Mary Page Keller).
Add in the visual tricks (the photographic montages, shots of Oliver's drawing work, the aforementioned dog) and this may sound a bit jumbled, but the movie does a great job of cross-cutting between the time frames and using to the time jumps and other stylistic quirks (yes, including the talking dog) to enrich the characters and storyline with a great deal of charm and humor.
We understand perfectly Hal's reluctance to come out of the closet earlier and his joy in his newfound identity, as well as Oliver's difficulty taking risks in his own personal life. And although the film is resolutely told from Oliver's point-of-view, the film also takes time to round out Anna's character, who has her own share of personal baggage. I can't remember the last time I actually cared about the outcome of a romance in a movie, but I sure did in this one.
Best of all, this is a movie that has something to say; namely, that whether you're a gay man in his 70's, an alienated bachelor in his 30's, or a globe-trotting actress in her 20's, we're all "beginners" at life and love and the important thing is to never throw in the towel. As someone who feels she is forever stumbling around in roles of wife, mother, and aspiring writer, and doing a crappy job at all of them, it's a sentiment I can certainly relate to. If you can as well, go see "Beginners" and tell me what you thought.