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I honestly cannot think of another film I have seen this year that I found as charming and heartfelt as ‘Beginners’ which stars Ewan McGregor as Oliver, a middle aged man who has just lost his father Hal to lung cancer. Oliver reveals to us, through narration, that after the death of his mother a few years back his father came out, having been gay throughout the 40 plus years of his marriage. Oliver’s life following his father’s passing is a lonely one that often leads to him talking to Arthur, his father’s dog. One night at a party he meets a beautiful actress named Anna. The two hit it off quickly and the rest of the film follows the development of their relationship, set among flashbacks of Oliver’s parents and his father’s new life as a gay man in the years before his death. Through these memories we get a better understanding, as to why Oliver has been alone, and why his time with Anna may be short lived; he has had 4 relationships in the past, but left them all. The result is a film about being open and honest, and finding love and happiness through from it.
This idea of being honest was difficult for Oliver because of his parents. Their hollow marriage cast a shadow on his view of love. Wanting to avoid what they had created, this constant uncertainty and sadness caused him to think love was doomed and so he would break relationships off in fear of what he thought was their inevitable conclusion.
Luckily Oliver is able to find inspiration in his father who was able to be open and honest in the final months of his life. Through the memories of Hal, Oliver is able to take those steps towards true joy. One reason being that when he found out his father was gay it finally dawned on him why his parents’ marriage seemed so empty. It wasn’t genuine and so not a good example of how things really are. Which brings up another important theme, that being change and starting over.
The title ‘Beginners’ refers to both Oliver and Hal being at the beginning of their new respective lives. Anna points out towards the end of the film, after reading a funny but sweet personal ad Hal had made, that Oliver’s father “Didn’t give up”. Even facing death, in his 70’s, Hal wanted to be happy and be himself by embracing his sexuality. It is in remembering these moments, seeing how happy his father was, that Oliver is able to look forward in a positive light, with a new perspective on love and an understanding of why his mother was always so sad. Oliver too has a new beginning and like Hal can now be open and embrace his love for Anna.
What held this whole story together for me were the characters, and more importantly the chemistry between them. I felt the dynamic between Anna and Oliver, the feelings and time they shared was incredibly sweet. Upon first seeing him Anna instantly recognized Oliver’s sadness. She too felt alone, having spent most of the past few years going from one hotel room to another. It is the sort of relationship in which the one thing that makes the love between them so poignant is that they can save each other, filling the voids in each other’s hearts. This makes it harder to watch as Oliver’s misconceptions on love cause a divide between them. At the beginner Oliver worries, like he did in his previous relationships, where this one is heading. He fears Anna will become his mother, unhappy and bitter. But when Oliver does change, and get her back, the result is an incredibly sweet ending.
All of this is done with a collection of small, genuine and heartfelt moments that build upon one another to form something much greater. On top of that were three wonderful performances. Christopher Plummer was so lovable as Hal, and clearly had a lot of fun with the character. Melanie Laurent was mesmerizing and sweet, she is so beautiful and easy to fall for. Ewan McGregor was also fantastic, and the real stand out here, carrying a great deal of pain adding depth to his performance in a way I’ve rarely seen him do. The structure and visual devices also worked incredibly well, helping to give it a unique feel. I really loved the use of photographs, montages to the 50’s and how it handled the history of the gay rights movement. The music was also lovely and fit the tone perfectly. It is a score that I’ve listened to a few times since watching the film.
Honestly, it had me smiling from start to finish. It just had this emotional resonance that clicked for me in a way that can hardly be explained. I ended up watching it two nights in a row just because I loved it so much the first time and I just wanted to watch the characters again soon after. It saddens me that so few people seemed to have seen it. I can easily say that ‘Beginners’ is a charming, smart, funny, sentimental and quirky film, one of my new favorites and I loved every single moment of it.