By: Henry J. Fromage (Two Beers) –
In Beginners, Ewan McGregor plays a NYC artist depressed by the recent death of his father (Christopher Plummer), who came out at the age of 75 after the death of his wife/McGregor’s mother. He meets a French actress (Melanie Laurent) at a costume party, and the movie follows his developing romance with her intercut with memories of his father’s personal awakening and his childhood with his mother.
Okay, know that synopsis isn’t attention-grabbing or all that original, but this movie is all in the presentation of the material, and it is impressive indeed. Writer/Director Mike Mills uses his whole toolbag of editing and style to cut between the three different time periods. He also loves montages, particularly a narrated still image slideshow technique he sets the scene with and uses to devastating effect later.
The acting is also top-notch. McGregor and Laurent meet at a costume party, but Laurent is dealing with laryngitis. The closest thing I can describe her performance from there is as Charlie Chaplin-esque, which I probably found more attractive than I should have.
I guess he is rather petite
Also, McGregor’s straight man role, particularly played against a subtitled dog of all things, is hilarious. Still, the performance most people are talking about is Christopher Plummer’s, one which will have to be on the shortlist of Oscar supporting actor noms. He doesn’t have a ton of time to work with, but he invests a depth in the scenes he’s in that not only produces a well-rounded character but sets the tone for MacGregor’s protagonist’s worldview.
The story is clearly a very personal one for Mills (whose life mirrors much of the plot), which explains how natural it feels even with all of the artistic license being employed. This works against the film towards the middle, though, which starts to sag a bit. I started to wonder if I was having problems connecting with McGregor/Mill’s relationship problems because Mills was getting a bit too personal, straying from the more universal feelings to do a little self-psychoanalysis. Mill’s kind of supports this with his choice of McGregor’s costume at the party he meets Laurent at:
The film picks back up towards the beautifully optimistic end, and is one of the best few to hit theaters this year. Expect to hear its name again come Oscartime, and keep an eye on Mills- he’s a major talent.
Bonus Drinking Game
Take a Drink: for each mention of sadness
Take a Drink: for every still image that flashes on screen
Drink a Shot: every time the dog “talks”