Best Movies of All Time + [romance]

BEGINNERS

BEGINNERS2011

"Our good fortune allowed us to feel a sadness our parents never had the time for."
-- Oliver Fields

Beginners is a 2011 dramatic comedy directed by Mike Mills that tells a non-linear story of two generations of romance. The story moves back and forth between flashbacks and present day as Oliver Fields (Ewan McGregor) comes to terms with two major life events: his 75-year-old father Hal (Christopher Plummer) coming out as a homosexual, and his father's ultimate death at the hands of a cancerous tumor. In the aftermath of his father's death, Oliver meets a young actress named Anna (Mélanie Laurent) with whom he starts a relationship despite the fact that he has been less than successful in past romances. The audience learns about Oliver's father through Oliver's memories and the stories he tells Anna, all while they both try to cope with their own life struggles.

I've been meaning to watch Beginners since it made its initial theatrical run last June, and after it scored some early praise, I had a feeling it might resurface come awards season. After nabbing an Academy Award nomination for Plummer in his supporting role, I knew I had to give it a view before the ceremony. It seemed quirky and offbeat, and I'm generally a sucker for films like that.

While I don't have overwhelming praise for this film, I do have to say that it was incredibly well-made and offers quite the experience for the viewer. The non-linear screenplay is going to be hit-or-miss with most viewers - you're either going to love it or hate it depending on your personal preferences. When the film isn't telling the main character stories, it's delving into a series of compare-and-contrast moments between Oliver's present-day livelihood and either his father's, his mother's or Anna's past. It may seem a little off-putting at first, but it also brings a little bit of charm and originality to this story, as well as adds another dimension to the Oliver character. In a way, this film works more as a character study than a story-oriented movie. We're given three principal characters - Oliver, Anna and Hal - each of whom has their own quirks and oddities that ultimately create who they are. All of them have issues with which to deal, and in a way, that's what makes them all the more interesting. I can honestly say I can't remember the last time I've related as much to a character as I did with the Oliver character in this film, though I haven't decided whether that's good or bad just yet. We're getting very thorough character studies with beautiful arcs; if that isn't reason enough to watch this one, then I don't know what is.

Because the characters are so well-written, it stands to say that the acting should be just as fantastic. While I wasn't exactly blown away by the performances, I did think that our three main actors all did their best with how the screenplay was written. Most of the praise has been for Plummer's supporting role: he's already won at the BAFTAs, the SAG Awards and the Golden Globes, and we're still waiting for the Oscar ceremony. Despite this, I personally wasn't sure why he deserved all this hoopla. Yes, he's great in the role, but a part of me wonders whether all these ceremonies are simply trying to honor an older actor who hasn't won much during his career. He didn't nab his first Oscar nomination until his performance in 2009's The Last Station, and after losing that, one could make the argument that the awarding parties may want to throw Plummer a bone this time around. And I'm not pulling this idea out of thin air: a lot of people assumed Colin Firth would win last year's Best Actor race at the Oscars for The King's Speech after he lost the previous year for his performance in A Single Man. But I suppose we'll just have to wait and see. I thought McGregor was very good in his role, and Laurent does a fine job with the limited amount of screentime she actually receives despite being the central female character in the film.

Still, despite the misgivings I've just mentioned, Beginners still manages to strike quite the emotional chord, for me at least. Having only recently laid my grandfather to his eternal rest, the sentiments of losing an aging loved one resonate quite strongly with me. And my ability to relate with the Oliver character was rather eye-opening, so that only fueled the emotions I felt throughout the film. Will you have the same emotional reaction? Who knows. Maybe I'm just an anomaly, and everyone else simply thought it was a well-made film. You be your own judge.

Movie Review Summary
Grade: B+
1.5 Thumbs Up