In a story about a man surrounded by death we get a tale about life, love, leading with your heart, and beginnings. Only a couple of years after burying his mother (Mary Page Keller), and just two months after the death of his father (Christopher Plummer), Oliver (Ewan McGregor) is dragged to a party by two friends (Kai Lennox, China Shavers) where he meets Anna (Mélanie Laurent).
The two immediately hit it off despite the fact that Anna is suffering from an acute case of laryngitis and Oliver is still reeling from the latest emotional blow to his life. Anna brings her own baggage to the table as a constantly on-the-move actress who is known for leaving those she’s fallen in love with. This is a concept Oliver understands completely as he remarks that you don’t have to move away to leave people.
The film comes close to being too adorable for its own good on more than one occasion. But even as he fills the movie with cute moments, writer/director Mike Mills makes sure to ground the story complex emotions and fears of two people, who despite obviously being meant for each other, aren’t good at being in a relationship.
Beginners shifts between three periods of time: Oliver’s memories from his childhood with his mother, his time with his father after his mother’s death, and his days with Anna. Slowly pieces of the each story begin to bleed into each other such as Oliver’s experience driving with his mother informs his first night with Anna as they take a drive in the wee hours of the night.
McGregor and Laurent are great together as two people loving each other but not trusting themselves to love. The beginning of their relationship is all fun, smiles, cute lies, and a growing understanding of the hardships each carry around with them. As the relationship gets more serious, and real work is involved, each begins to question whether or not its worth the effort.
Come Oscar time you’re probably going to hear the name Christopher Plummer, and deservedly so. Plummer stars as Oliver’s father, who after 44 years of marriage, comes out of the closet, finds a new lover (Goran Visnjic) and spends his remaining years embracing the life he has hidden for so long. He doesn’t quite steal the film, but he comes close.
At the end of his life he too has a new beginning, even if this means ignoring the effects of his increasingly fatal stage four cancer. The Oliver/Anna relationship is the film’s heart, but Oliver’s relationship with his father (and to a lesser extent his relationship with his mother) informs all the choices he makes over the course of the film including his attachment to his father’s Jack Russell.
Beginners is a surprisingly good film about new chances, new choices, and seizing life’s opportunities when they’re presented. Whether that’s stumbling across a mute Mélanie Laurent laying on a couch at a random party or embracing a life you’ve kept in the shadows for 70 years the film is a celebration of life which is centered around a singularly depressed individual who is able to find happiness when he’s least expecting it.
Both the DVD and Blu-ray include audio commentary from Mills and a 15-minute behind-the-scenes featurette.