Mike Mills’ Beginners (2010) is an incredibly intelligent and sensitive film; it is well made, carefully thought out and has bags of quirky humour. The plot focus on a graphic designer Oliver whose world is shaken to its core when he finds out firstly that his father, Hal (played with camp relish by Christopher Plummer) has being concealing that his marriage of 25 years was a sham and he is in fact gay.
Energized with a new zest for life, Hal goes out to discover what he has missed out on all these years fully embracing being out of the closet, a great moment is seeing Plummer dancing in a night club to house music picking up men.
There is however a second problem. Only five years after coming out, Hal is diagnosed with stage four Lymphoma. Beginners thus centres on how Oliver adjusts to the discovery that a large part of his life has been a lie and that he is about to loose his father who he barely knew. A few months after his fathers death Oliver meets the beautiful Anna, a quirky actress played by the stunning Mélanie Laurent.
Beginners avoids the linear and oscillates between Oliver’s memories of his parents, the years after his father comes out, and his new life with Anna. This is all neatly stitched together with Godardian cut scenes flashing through photographs, voiceovers and a adorable subtitled Jack Russel, that guide the viewer through Oliver’s story from childhood to adulthood.
Written and directed by Mike Mills (who interestingly for those who read my write up on Moby last month may know that Mills directed Moby’s video for Run On), Beginners is based on the fikmmaker’s own experiences, as his own father also revelealed his secret homosexuality. Although autobiographical, the film is not self-indulgent and Mills has provided plenty of authorial space between his personal feelings and the film.
This is something of a double edged sword as it is clearly a good thing that we are not getting a movie ranting about Mills’ personal difficulties, there is however a huge amount of frustration watching this film that you don’t get to see Oliver’s true feelings. Oliver is never overt with his emotions they sit quietly (and sometimes unnervingly below the surface).
In one scene a gaggle of Hal’s new gay friends set of fireworks, as a firework explodes and Oliver shouts, “fuck!” at the top of his voice, everyone laughs at and he continues screaming it at the top of his voice in Hal’s face. You get the sense that this outburst is a strong reflection on the entire situation, Oliver doesn’t know how to deal with his emotions so can only react in expletives, he just can’t deal with either his fathers illness or the lie.
Beginners really is a superbly quirky indie film that is moving and intelligent, with a truly great cast. As one film critic has already stated, “It makes a great date movie”.