After the death of his wife, the 75-year-old Hal (Christopher Plummer) finally comes out to his son Oliver (Ewan McGregor) and the world. He quickly takes a younger lover, Andy (Goran Visnjic) but almost as fast, Hal is diagnosed with terminal cancer. After Hal’s death, Oliver struggles with depression and lacks a general direction when he meets Anna (Mélanie Laurent) and the two of them fall for each other.
The film has many good things going for it. Most notably the wonderful cast, the dog and the fact that it actually pulls off the manic pixie dream girl trope. The problem is, though, that it is yet another artsy film about the woes of a white guy who is charmingly quirky. Which should be a genre unto its own and labelled as such so I can avoid most of its brethren.
Beginners has most definitely the wrong marketing. Going into the film, I thought that it would be mostly about Oliver and Hal and them coming to terms with Hals coming out. But Hal’s story is almost entirely a quirk to make Oliver more interesting and the film is actually about Oliver fighting depression and mid-life crisis and his father’s death and then falling in love with Anna and how that helps him along. Which is, of course, a perfectly legitimate story to tell – it just isn’t the story I expected. But the thing that is really sad is that the film that was marketed should have been the film that was made.
This probably sounds worse than it is. The film does have its charms, especially in its cast: Ewan McGregor I could gobble up whole anyway. Mélanie Laurent is great. Goran Visnjic can actually be funny, which was quite surprising. But the star in this film is Christopher Plummer, who gives his Hal just the right nuances. And of course the dog, talking or not, was a total scene-stealer.
Mike Mills hits a lot of right notes in his script. I was very impressed that despite the fact that Anna has all the makings of the manic pixie dream girl, she is an entire character and not just a plot device for Oliver to grow and that their relationship actually really works. It’s still a fantasy I don’t quite get – why are MPDG that attractive to hipsters? – but I could understand why Anna and Oliver totally go for each other.
There are a few segments where Mills artsiness runs away with him. But they are rare and most of the time I had no problem accepting the quirkiness.
Summarising: not as good as it could have been, but nice enough.