This review first appeared in the Sunday Star Times, 6th November 2011
When Oliver’s mother dies, his 75 year old father comes out as gay and takes life by the horns. “I don’t want to be theoretically gay – I want to do something about it”, Hal (Christopher Plummer) tells the bemused but supportive Ewan McGregor, who is dealing with his own paralysed melancholia.
And so begins this mostly charming meditation on life and love and it never being too late and how we should throw ourselves into things and open our hearts and take whatever comes. Oliver in particular has lessons to learn – he spends his days doodling eccentric sketches instead of designing album covers like he’s employed to, and finds it hard to interact with other young people at parties. It probably doesn’t help that his father’s dog, Arthur, speaks to him in subtitles. Perhaps he needs to start a relationship of his own with a cute, mute French girl (Inglorious Basterds’ Melanie Laurent).
Did somebody say “quirky”? Writer/director Mike Mills made the indie hit Thumbsucker back in 2005, so this was always going to have its own special flavour. Remarkably, the cinematic pretensions – the voiceover, animations, flashes back and forth in time – all ameliorate rather than alienate. McGregor is good at playing downcast and mixed up, and Plummer is a delight as the bandana-wearing neophyte of house music. There is even a surprising turn from ER’s Goran Visnjic as Hal’s crazy young boyfriend.
Laden with quirks and conveniences, with an Amelie-esque whimsy, Beginners shouldn’t quite work – but somehow it ecstatically does.