My faithful movie junkie friend took me to see the highly recommended Mike Mills film, Beginners. The film stars Ewan McGregor, Christopher Plummer and Melanie Laurent. McGregor plays Oliver, a graphic artist, who is forced to come to grips with the death of his father, Hal (Plummer). His father’s death leaves him completely alone, save for his father’s dog, Arthur. Oliver is left with the memories of his father, who three years prior, following the death of his wife of 45 years, came out, at the age of 75, as gay. Hal completely transforms his conventional life and embraces his suppressed sexuality. He dates a younger man, throws gay rights parties, joins a gay man’s choir and marches in gay pride parades. He lives in pure bliss for his last three years and then dies, leaving his commitment-phobic son.
Oliver and Hal’s relationship grew during those last three years. He becomes Hal’s caregiver and confidant. No moment spent is without Hal imparting learned wisdom or advice about love, fear, confusion and surrendering to life. The story is heartbreaking as one watches Oliver’s once estranged father slip away to deteriorating health. Their relationship is the heart of the story as Oliver internally works to forgive his father for keeping his mother in a false and unhappy marriage.
Intertwined in the father-son relationship story is the budding love between Oliver and a aspiring-French actress Anna (Laurent). Oliver meets Anna and is instantly captivated by her spontaneity and gumption. She appears fearless, the exact thing he is seeking to fill the emptiness of his loss. But something happens and the tumultuous relationship seems to end. All of Oliver’s commitment fears and Anna’s dark past surface. Oliver is faced with a choice, to walk away or use the lessons from his father to change.
The story captures the essence of the grief and fear through Oliver’s overwhelming consciousness. Oliver’s every thought is explored and revealed through creative cinematography and a first-person narrative style. Stylistically, the film is beautiful. Unexpected cinematic tricks are used. It’s utterly creative and unique, from the subdued colors used to convey Oliver’s somber thoughts to the cheerful music. The film was a bit slow and falling in love with Oliver and Anna is a bit forced. But the film is deeply personal. It speaks to the individual and truly forces deep contemplation about life, love, and adulthood. Mike Mills wrote and directed this film inspired by his own experiences with his own father. The story is challenging but definitely worth a chance.
Mills weaves sequences of history, humor, sadness, and courage to develop a story that is rarely told this well. Humanity is captured, all the good and bad. I walked out of the film with my thoughts provoked. My movie friend and I reflected on our opinions but we couldn’t really express them because we were stunned, frustrated, and unsure of our overall feelings. We were told that we would cry, laugh, and fall in love. We definitely laughed but the film was so full of emotions, we just meditated on the film’s message that life happens and we fail to truly life if we let society dictate our choices.