After we walked out of “Tree of Life,” we ended up in “Beginners,” simply because there was a subtitled, semi-talking dog in the previews. We knew some basics about the movie – Ewan McGregor starred as Oliver, a man whose father Hal (Christopher Plummer) is dying. We also knew he had a dog named Arthur and had just met a girl named Anna (Melanie Laurent).
“Beginners” felt very whimsical. The timeline of the film is criss-crossed between two different stories – the first, of Oliver’s budding romance with Anna, and the second, of Hal’s coming out and decline of health. We also receive a few shots of a young Oliver, with his very hip but slightly crazy mother (these scenes reminded me of Fitzgerald’s young Amory, from “This Side of Paradise”).
Christopher Plummer plays an excellent, believable character, who simultaneously makes us laugh and feel great sorrow; it’s difficult to fall in love with a character who we know is going to die, there is a feeling of missing someone who is still there. Having come out after Oliver’s mother’s death, Hal is suddenly super-involved with a new crowd, has a new boyfriend, and is trying to deal with his grave illness. The movie follows things through Oliver’s point of view (director Mike Mills based the movie on his own experience), but Plummer breathes a charm into Hal’s otherwise plain (almost cliché?) character. There is one scene in the movie where a homestay nurse attempts to style Hal’s hair, which sounds so simple and silly, but was terribly heartbreaking to see.
Less interesting and/or believable was Oliver’s relationship with Anna. It felt too contrived, to meet at a party where Anna does not speak, to return to her hotel room (Anna only lives in hotel rooms, because they make her feel “free”), and to have awkward breakup/makeup conversations. This type of whimsical couple-y arc felt too much like a chick-flick to me, even though things are from Oliver’s perspective. A girl who’s always on the run from being tied down? Thanks, but we’ve seen that all the way back in “Breakfast at Tiffany’s.”
Throughout the film, Oliver is working on an assignment to make a cover for the band “The Sads,” and he works his own experiences into this assignment, generating tons and tons of potential album covers, none of which the band like. The film feels likewise scattered, which is okay at times, but leaves us with a cottony impression after leaving the theatre. Kevin fell asleep halfway through and slept for most of the film.
Overall – 3.5/5; “Beginners” offers a fluffy look at two relationships, one which is ending and one which is beginning, but despite the heavy backstory and a compelling performance by Plummer, that’s all it ends up feeling like: fluff.