Beginners, an indie film from 2011, won me over tonight. I’d heard good things about it, and I knew it starred Ewan McGregor, one of my absolute favorite actors. The actress who played my favorite character in Inglourious Basterds, Melanie Laurent, is featured as his love interest.
But while there is love and humor and relationships, this is no rom-com. It’s 2003, and Oliver, a 38-year-old graphic artist, finds himself dealing with two very difficult bits of news from his father. First, Oliver discovers his 75-year-old father Hal (Christopher Plummer) is gay and ready to come out of the closet. “I don’t just want to be theoretically gay. I want to do something about it,” Hal earnestly tells his son. After more than 40 years of marriage and living a lie with Oliver’s late mother ( who knew he was gay but said she could “fix” him), he doesn’t want to hide any longer.
And so Hal gets involved with various gay pride groups, makes lots of new friends and even gets the sort of tender romantic relationship with a younger man ( that handsome gent Goran Visnjic, sporting an unfortunate John Porter Security Man Shag) he’s hoped to find. He’s suddenly discovered his joie de vivre. Oliver–who never saw real love between his parents, only a polite cordiality–looks on with interest.
Poor Oliver is an uptight guy–he’s sad, he’s lonely and he yearns for a lasting, loving relationship, something that has eluded him. You don’t have to be told this; you can see in McGregor’s expressive eyes.
I said two difficult bits of news. Just when Hal is enjoying his new freedom of expression, he is diagnosed with lung cancer.
The movie is narrated by McGregor and features flashbacks to the childhood that helped mold into the adult he’s become. We follow Oliver’s relationship with his terminally ill father (his love for his dad is so touching), and later, his blossoming romance with a lovely French actress, who is as emotionally skittish as Oliver. There are a lot of serious moments, and at one point I was boo-hooing (keep the tissues handy).
But there are lighter moments as well, and it’s never melodramatic; these seem like real people in real houses and offices, not actors emoting on some Hollywood soundstage.
It’s not for everyone; it moves at a leisurely pace and there isn’t a lot of action. But as one reviewer said, it has an innate sweetness. Beginners offers plenty of humanity with a literate script ( based on the real-life story of the writer-director’s relationship with his late father) and wonderful performances by all involved. Not to mention the cutest Jack Russell Terrier who “speaks” in subtitles to add a bit of lightness here and there (and it works. I fell in love with Arthur). Ultimately, it is a life-affirming film.
I have to say this is the kind of small indie gem I would love to see Richard appear in from time to time, in between big budget productions and any stage work he might pursue. I think he would find such a project a satisfying and rewarding one and we would enjoy seeing him engage with good actors and a good script in an intimate setting.