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From Sad to Worse: These Beginners have no luck 

Beginners is released giving both experienced and beginner movie viewers an unsatisfactory movie.

click to enlarge film_beginners.jpg
At one point in Beginners, Ewan McGregor's character, Oliver, says "Jack Russells are bred to be cute." The film's implicit statement about human beings is much darker in contrast - humans are bred to be sad... and depressed, we learn.

Oliver meets Anna (Mélanie Laurent) after the death of his father, Hal (Christopher Plummer), who after 44 years of marriage came out of the closet at age 75 to live a full and energized gay life. The flashbacks of Hal's newfound honesty turn out to be funny and moving, bringing father and son closer than they'd ever expected. Oliver attempts to love Anna with the same courage and humor, hoping that his father taught him how, but is at a loss.

Mike Mills, who based this film on his experiences with his own father, ventures into the anti-mainstream again, like he did with 2005's quirky Thumbsucker, and was smart to cast pretty people with problems. Oliver and Anna are beautifully messed up people so we tend to want to feel their pain, but really, if it were Paul Giamatti and Kathy Bates just being sad, this movie would generate a whole different dynamic.

Saying that Beginners goes against the grain is putting it mildly. I don't mind if a movie is a slow burn or about existential pain, but if the focal point is just about sadness, backed up by more sadness, there's not a lot for the audience to sink their teeth into.

Still, there's something to be said about a movie that sticks to its guns. Beginners sets a quirky yet somber tone and stays on course throughout. I have to give it props for its alternative way-off-the-beaten-path narrative, which saunters back and forth to tell the stories amidst diagram-like time lines, wherein we get to know who was president and what the sky looked like in 1955 or 1983. A bit too arty for its own good, the structure is at times a necessary and rewarding distraction from all that hurt and angst emanating from the screen.

This flick is basically a story of the lost and lonely trying to discard the self-fulfilling prophecy of relationships never working out and studies two people who fear their own happiness and choose to betray and deprive themselves of any shred of pleasure while at the same time admitting that they'd like to try. Alongside kindness and poignancy we get glimmers of hope meshed with dashed dreams.

Beginners, through deconstructing traditional opinions, conveys that life is hard. But it forgets to tell its two main characters to get over's not that bad.


2 stars

Starring Ewan McGregor, Christopher Plummer, Mélanie Laurent, Mary Page Keller

Directed by Mike Mills

Rated R


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