Beginners | Film review
Beginners is half of a terrific movie—but only half.
After his mother’s death, cartoonist Oliver (McGregor) is confronted with a confession from his 75-year-old dad (Plummer): He’s gay. Three years later, the father dies from lung cancer, leaving the son still reeling and rethinking moments from his childhood, trying to imagine his parents’ relationship. All of this is true—it’s Mills’s lightly fictionalized rendering of what happened with him and his dad—and the best moments in Beginners are the scenes between McGregor and Plummer, as the son and his now out-and-proud father come to regard each other with a new openness. In brief montages Mills apparently modeled on vintage education films, Oliver also tries to envision the world of the ’50s and the pressures pushing his father to conform.
Unfortunately, as if someone decided this material merited no further exploration, Beginners devotes only half a movie to this story. The film flip-flops between those tumultuous three years and the time following the father’s death, when life conveniently throws Oliver a French hottie (Laurent) to help ease his pain. Although the film alludes to a fraught past for her, the character is so ill-defined she’s actually introduced mute. (Thanks, laryngitis!) This miscast, inert romance doesn’t balance the father-son thread in any way, and it keeps dragging us away from the real drama—the remembrance that Beginners desperately seems to want to tell.