DENNIS SCHWARTZ 
IS THERE ANY GOOD 
IN SAYING 
EVERYTHING ABOUT A MOVIE?

 
BEGINNERS (director/writer: Mike Mills; cinematographer: Kasper Tuxen; editor: Olivier Bugge Coutté; music: Roger Neill/David PalmerBrian Reitzell; cast: Ewan McGregor (Oliver), Christopher Plummer (Hal), Mélanie Laurent (Anna), Goran Visnjic (Andy), Kai Lennox (Elliot), Mary Page Keller (Georgia); Runtime: 105; MPAA Rating: R; producers: Leslie Urdang/Dean Vanech/Miranda de Pencier/Jay Van Hoy/Lars Knudsen; Focus Features; 2010)

 
"Affectionate personal pic."

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz 

Writer-director Mike Mills ("Thumbsucker"), former graphic artist, explores both the love between a father and a son and the love between a confused young man and a zany woman in this affectionate personal pic. The 38-year-old LA designer Oliver (Ewan McGregor) learns after his repressed Jewish mom, Georgia (Mary Page Keller), dies, that his 75-year-old father, Hal (Christopher Plummer), is gay, after being married for 44 years. Telling his son that his creative wife knew he was gay, but decided she can accept living a lie and learned to make the best of a limited marriage--that gave both a sense of security, but left the child unsettled not understanding why the house was so cold and his dad so distant.

The heartfelt indie family drama is autobiographical, as Mills' real-life father did the same action as in the pic and McGregor's character is a surrogate for the director. Dad's late-life revelation of his sexual orientation profoundly influences his son’s life, too. Thereby the title suggests that both men became liberated at that point when the father came out and both became beginners in experiencing a new world that could only before be imagined.

Hal, a workaholic museum director, tries to make the last 3 years of his life a positive experience, as he now has an open relationship with a young lover named Andy (Goran Visnjic), becomes active in gay activities, has a new set of lively arty friends and expresses a zest for life he never exhibited before despite now being treated for terminal lung cancer.

After Oliver's dad passes away from the disease, at a Halloween costume party, Oliver dresses as Sigmund Freud and meets French actress Anna (Melanie Laurent) who has  laryngitis and communicates via a notepad. They begin a cautious relationship, each afraid of making a commitment and fearful of close relationships, but Oliver eventually comes out of his sad funk inspired by the open relationship with his wise father in his later years. At home Oliver receives the unconditional love from his pet Jack Russell terrier, his father's dog, who cutely communicates with his owner via smarty-pants subtitled thoughts.

The sincere pic, not always engaging, divides its time between the present and the start of Oliver's first meaningful relationship with a woman (who happens to also be Jewish like mom and like her feels it's their lot in life to suffer like all Jews). It also flashbacks to life with mom and dad's rebirth in 2003, when he became exhilarated to be a gay pride man. The weakest parts were Oliver courting Anna, which lost me at times with its cliched romance.

Though this is an indie and most likely will not draw a big box office, it's worth noting how far in the evolutionary process Hollywood has come in depicting gay life and not insulting the viewer with vile stereotypes as it did in films prior to Brokeback Mountain. It's a very positive step, indeed, as the pic leaves us with the rosy message that it's never too late to be liberated and find true love.

REVIEWED ON 7/25/2011       GRADE: B

Dennis Schwartz: "Ozus' World Movie Reviews"

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