Critics loved ‘Beginners’. The film was praised and earlier this year Hollywood stalwart, Christopher Plummer received both an Academy Award and a Golden Globe for his portrayal as a geriatric gay widower. I will respectfully disagree and claim that ‘Beginners’ is a movie you think you like. Hopefully, when you watch it a few years from now you will be scratching your head thinking, “why did I like this film?” The film is half-baked and pretentious and it beggars belief that Plummer won an Oscar for such an uneventful role in such a mediocre film. You could be forgiven for imagining that the benevolence of the Academy was due to Plummer being overlooked since ‘The Sound of Music’ or their blind adoration for actors who portray gay characters.
Plot: Oliver (Ewan McGregor) is the saddest man around. After his mother passes away, Oliver’s father jumps out of the closet and announces he has been gay his entire life. Hal (Christopher Plummer) immediately sets out to remedy his lost gay years while Oliver grapples with a childhood lived in the shadow of his parents’ amicable but loveless marriage. After five years of following the rainbow Hal is diagnosed with cancer and his death leaves even more pain and anguish in Oliver’s life. As fate would have it he soon meets French actress, Anna (Mélanie Laurent) and the two of them strike up a bittersweet love relationship amidst the sadness of life.
While Plummer and McGregor give steady performances, the characters in the film are all one dimensional and lack the nuance needed to adequately give life to the film. This fault line lies squarely at the feet of indie filmmaker Mike Mills, whose adolescent screen writing reads too much like his own personal therapy session. The film is based on Mills’ own experience and like Oliver; Mike too was a graphic artist whose father hid his gay identity till after Mills’ mother died.
Mills fails to balance his own experience with artistic quality control and the result is a contrived, immature and overly idealized story that fools certain audiences with cheap artistic interpolations-think ‘Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind’. Anna is a flimsy character and the fact that she is French piles on the contrivance. Her melancholy is inadequately conjured from her issues with her father and her silly mannerisms and relationship with Oliver are the result of Mills’ soppy and childish idealism. The award for most miscast definitely has to be given to Goran Višnjić from E.R. fame as his performance as a gay man fails to ignite the screen. ‘Beginners’ moves slowly and climaxes into nothingness. The inclusion of Cosmo, the mutt from ‘The Artist’ does break the melancholy but it soon becomes clear that they were trying too hard to be clever and artistic in this regard as well.
The movie is not bad but it has major flaws and why critics and indie audiences loved this film is hard to say. Maybe the onslaught of block busters made them easy prey or the tacky use of sadness and love easily hooked in and deceived certain viewers. At the end of the credits all I can say is that ‘Beginners’ tries too hard. It tries too hard to be like ‘Annie Hall’ or tries too much to be an indie film but it lacks the wit and charm of Woody Allen and the innovation of ‘Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind’. Sorry to break it to you folks but this one’s a dud.