This is not a story about a family coming to terms with homosexuality but rather reacquainting of yourself with someone you have known and loved your entire life. Hal (Christopher Plummer) lights up Los Angeles with his excitement and fervor as he sets off fireworks, peruses bookstores, parties in techno clubs, and falls for a much younger man (Goran Visnjic). Soon after Hal embarks on his newfound freedom, he discovers that he has terminal cancer. “Let’s not rush out and tell anyone,” he remarks with a sad smirk, not quite ready to give up the party. Oliver struggles to connect this new version of his father with the absent one from his childhood who fueled his mother's depression and his own commitment issues. Christopher Plummer is delightful and charming as an elderly man learning to live with an insatiable appetite for life.
Interwoven into Hal’s story is Oliver’s life after his father is gone, where he works and lives alone as a melancholy artist. He cares for Hal’s Jack Russell terrier, Arthur, who Mills calls Oliver’s “co-passenger” in the film. In perhaps one of the cutest “meet-cutes” in film history, Oliver and Arthur encounter a magnetic French actress (Mélanie Laurent) at a Halloween party. Anna and Oliver’s relationship is perhaps one of the most intimate and genuine depictions I’ve seen. Mills describes the two “post-1960s children… haunted by the contracts, compromises, and the hidden sadness of their parents.” They fall in love despite their best efforts, dancing, roller-skating, and weaving their way through Los Angeles. Their relationship is hot and cold -- two people fighting against their inability to connect.
Mills’s previous works include 2005 indie-favorite The Thumbsucker, as well as several music videos, graphic design, and art. These influences come together in his filmmaking and writing styles like pieces of flash fiction strung together to a series of deeply personal images. The narrative is playful as it breaks away from classic story structure and envelops the audience in the immediacy of love and grief. Each vignette rings true, from Oliver’s (mostly) one-sided dialogue with Arthur to his adventures with Hal and Anna.
Ewan McGregor portrays Oliver with the delicate affection that drew audiences to him in Moulin Rouge, and his chemistry with the ever-alluring Mélanie Laurent is captivating to watch. Thanks to a brilliant cast and Mills’s deftly handled screenplay, Beginners is a fresh and frank look at the way people love each other. Subtle and ethereal, this film will get under your skin and follow you home.
FOR FANS OF: Igby Goes Down, The Thumbsucker