Often films are billed one way, but are really something quite different when you see them. Often this is for the worst. Something that seems really scary is actually too foolish to be taken seriously, or something that looks hilarious in the previews fails to deliver one belly laugh in the theater. Every once in a while though, a film will come along that is a pleasant surprise. That was the case with Beginners, starring Ewan McGregor and Christopher Plummer.
What I expected from the trailers, was a straight forward romantic comedy, but it turned out to be an artful drama about love and mortality. In the film, Hal (Plummer) comes out of the closet in his seventies after losing his wife of four decades. Finally, he decides to live the life he always wanted and to really enjoy what was left of his golden years and we soon learn it’s not a very long time. This section of his life is all seen in flashback as his son Oliver (McGregor) is picking up the pieces after his father’s death and trying to figure out love on his own terms. He meets the luminous Anna (Melanie Laurent) at a costume party and they begin a complicated love affair that they both seem to be excited and frightened by. They both have trepidation and emotional damage, but that’s what connects them. He’s a mopey artist doing album covers for rock bands and she’s a free spirited, bi-coastal actress with daddy issues. There’s also an adorable pooch whose own thoughts provide an off-beat comedic relief.
Plummer’s engaging patriarch is lovable, stubborn and honest in his new found life. He joins gay social clubs, goes to pride marches and even gets himself a younger boyfriend (Goran Visnjic). He doesn’t try to impart wisdom on his son so much as to lead by joie de vivre. McGregor’s Oliver is touching as he slowly learns to take chances in his own life and allows himself to be vulnerable. Laurent rounds out the ensemble with an emotionally open and engaging performance. I hope to see more of her in the future.
Beginners is a charming slice of life that doesn’t try to answer too many questions and the questions it asks are thought provoking and apropos to our evolving cultural climate. Should we even risk being in love if it will just end in despair? Or is it better to simply be loved than to be in love?