It is not often that a romantic film comes around with emotional maturity and sensitivity. Particularly when much of the story centers around homosexuality. Coming to theatres during a time when a leading republican candidate seems to be making her money with a ‘pray away the gay’ “medical” practice. Likelihood aside, writer and director Mike Mills has managed to do just that. Beginners is understated, charming, and completely lovely, even for those with the hardest of hearts.
The story unfolds gently. Ewan McGregor takes lead as a lost, artistic man named Oliver. He has lost his father to cancer months before the beginning of the film. His relationship with his father, Hal (Christopher Plummer), took a particularly dramatic turn a few short years before his death, when Hal came out to his son as a homosexual. This is, of course, after the death of Hal’s lifelong partner and wife, Oliver’s mother. Oliver had such a short time to discover his father under these new parameters, that sting over losing him took a new, unexpected dimension.
Enter Anna (Mélanie Laurent). A charming free spirit, an actress, who’s sense of romanticism and humor is captivating. The sharp and vengeful girl we saw in Inglourious Basters is completely replaced by a woman anyone should fall for. The two enter a romantic tryst that’s both frightening in its velocity, but unavoidably appealing. It demands to be mentioned that neither of these stories, Oliver and his father, and Oliver and his new girlfriend, is told traditionally straight forward. In spite of the fact the two story arcs take place years apart, the film’s focus jumps from one to the other without warning. This device comes off as shallow and destracting in other films. But with Mills’ confident focus, each serves to prop up and support the other. It’s completely enveloping following Oliver, a hero the majority of the population can relate to, build these two complex relationships.
Oliver never seems to have any issue with this new life Hal embraces. Hal finds a young lover whom Oliver accepts, but also envies, as Hal seemed distance most of Oliver’s youth. Any sort of jealousy clearly boils down to a yearning to have the sort of father-son relationship everyone wants deep down. Hal’s mortality puts a finite glass ceiling on where the two can grow. But Oliver and Anna, they can go anywhere they allow themselves, providing they overcome their self imposed obstacles.
There are parts of Beginners they may feel just oh so ‘independent,’ trying the patience of some. Oliver inherits a Jack Russell Terrier from his father. While the dog doesn’t speak in words, he manages to communicate with Oliver through subtitles, offering insightful, and hilarious commentary on awkward moments and situations. Some of the cute dialogue may rub the romantically disinclined as lowbrow pandering to those who can’t resist a love story between damaged souls. To those people I say, lighten up. There certainly isn’t a more endearing and authentic love story in theatres right now. Give love a chance.