Oscar Nominee Review: Beginners
is a snooze. Plain and simple. And that's unfortunate, really, because it's a very personal story. Director Mike Millis partly based Beginners
on his own life—specifically, the material dealing with the main character's elderly father who comes out of the closet after his wife dies. If only the film focused more on that material, it could have been very touching. Instead, that story is meant to supplement an overly cutesy and often quite boring, love story. There's nothing interesting or exceptional about it, and the couple's problems seem completely of their own making. Christopher Plummer, nominated for an Oscar for this role, gives a good performance as the gay father, and the dog in the film is damn adorable, but the list of pros ends right there.
The stand-in for Millis is Oliver (Ewan McGregor), an illustrator in his late thirties. He's in the process of grieving his late father, Hal (Plummer), when he meets Anna (Melaine Laurent). She's a French actress who's on the road too much to really settle down. He's understandably a little down, but he realizes it's not much of a change from his usual attitude. He's not exactly the happiest guy, and he has a serious fear of commitment which stems from the chilly relationship between his parents. And though Anna seems different, it's not clear he can overcome his insecurities to find true happiness with her.
The film employs a non-linear timeline to tell this story. It's a technique that feels a little played out, and though it doesn't exactly take away from the film, it doesn't really add much either. There are a couple nice moments in which we see Oliver pick up some quirks from his parents, but on the whole, the idea that one's relationship insecurities come from his or her family history isn't revelatory or compelling.
There's another issue—an overdose of cute. Take, for instance, Oliver and Anna's first encounter. It's a Halloween party. He's dressed as Freud and plants himself near a couch with his pad and pen to analyze people. Anna plops down with her own pad, having to write in order to communicate due to a severe case of laryngitis. It's the kind of thing that only happens in movies—specifically in indie romantic comedies like this. Beginners
feels like it's striving so hard to be (500) Days of Summer
, but it doesn't touch Marc Webb's film, which used a jumbled chronology to great effect, and earned the right to be quirky.
Ewan McGregor sleepwalks through the role of Oliver. The guy just has no charisma—an inexcusable flaw for an actor like himself. Laurent doesn't come close to the level of acting on display in Inglourious Basterds
, but she gives it her all. Plummer, however, excels. Hal is a three-dimensional individual with a warm heart, a great deal of wisdom, and a personal history littered with mistakes from early in his life that make him feel real remorse. Plummer never plays into the stereotypes that you might expect from a character like this, and nothing about his story feels inauthentic.
Take away Plummer's work (which is days away from being awarded with an Oscar), and Beginners
is a completely unremarkable film. The romance is sloppily put together, and McGregor does a disservice to his colleagues. Available now on DVD, Beginners
has its fair share of fans, but this type of film has been done many times before with much more success.