2010 Running time: 104 Certificate: 15 Rating: 4

Synopsis

In this heartfelt drama, Christopher Plummer - who won a best supporting actor Oscar - plays a 75-year-old man who reveals to his son (Ewan McGregor) that he is dying of cancer... and is gay. The revelation forces the young man to question his own relationships, particularly his burgeoning affair with a young French actress (Inglourious Basterds' Mélanie Laurent). Thumbsucker director Mike Mills weaves a compelling tale of things not being what they are.

Director

  • Mike Mills

Cast

  • Ewan McGregor

  • Christopher Plummer

  • Mélanie Laurent

  • Goran Visnjic

Review

This beautifully-crafted film - delivering punchlines and pathos with equal measure - works under the assertion that when it comes to relationships we're all beginners.

At its centre is McGregor's Oliver, whose consciousness provides the vehicle through which the film explores the laughs, loves and loss of relationships.

Oliver meets the kooky and coquettish Anna (Laurent) only months after his father Hal Fields (Plummer) has passed away.

But a relationship which should help him move on from his loss only serves to flood him with memories of Hal; who, after the death of his wife of 45 years, came out of the closet and found a new lease of life, despite being terminally ill himself.

The following hour-and-three-quarters gloriously intercuts Oliver's burgeoning relationship with childhood memories of his imaginative but unhappy mother (played by scene-stealer Mary Page Keller), his experiences before and after his fathers death, as well as facts and archive images of the time period.

Indeed Beginners self-consciously plays with all sorts of cinematic conventions, relying on a literate audience to pick up on its regular renovations to the fourth wall which include everything from a silent-movie first meeting between Oliver and Anna, to the sketches and slide shows Oliver arranges to illustrate his mental process.

Throw in a talking Jack Russell and it sounds like a lot to take in. And indeed it is. But therein lies the film's charm.

Despite its complicated anatomy, Beginners comes together beautifully, mixing intimacy, laugh-out-loud humour and genuine emotion thanks in no small part to pitch-perfect performances from its principal players.

McGregor turns in his best work in years in an understated and insular lead role as the bewildered and perennially pre-occupied protagonist, whilst at the other end of the spectrum Goran Visnjic (of ER fame) is brilliant as Hal's larger-than-life toyboy.

But it's Plummer who steals the show, taking a role that could so easily have become caricature and enthusing it with a playful glee that perfectly captures his character's renaissance and renewed lust for life. The chemistry between the cast positively crackles off the screen and gives the film its heart.

But writer/director Mike Mills, who based much of the film on his own experiences, is the real star here. After catching the eye with Thumbsucker in 2005, in Beginners he's truly marked his card with a real gem of a movie that shimmers amongst the hype fuelled rough of this summer's silly season.

In a crowded schedule and with a limited release, there's a good chance that Beginners will fall off many people's radar - if it ever shows up at all.

But the film deserves far more attention than it will no doubt attract; a sleeper that I implore audiences to wake up to.

Daniel Betteridge

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