Beginners (15)

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The ViewLondon Review

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Review byMatthew Turner21/07/2011

Two out of Five stars
Running time: 105 mins

Beginners is well acted and has the occasional inspired moment, but its overly self-conscious quirkiness never quite gels with the emotional drama and the end result is disappointing.

What's it all about?
Written and directed by Mike Mills (Thumbsucker), Beginners stars Ewan McGregor as Oliver, a graphic artist who's struggling to cope with the recent death of his father, Hal (Christopher Plummer). Things look up for terminally miserable Oliver when he meets free-spirited French actress Anna (Melanie Laurent), but their tentative relationship is hampered by their mutual commitment phobia and his constant memories of his father.

Meanwhile, flashbacks reveal both Oliver's childhood (played by Keegan Boos) and his father's last few years, when he came out at the age of 75 (after the death of Oliver's mother) and threw himself whole-heartedly into the septuagenarian gay scene, finding love with much younger boyfriend Andy (Goran Visnjic) before succumbing to terminal illness.

The Good
McGregor is an immensely likeable screen presence, which is just as well, since Oliver indulges in some industrial scale moping, even when he's landed a hot French girlfriend. Laurent does her best, though she never looks entirely comfortable with all the quirky hoops her character has to jump through. However, the film is roundly stolen by Plummer, who's utterly superb as Hal and who could end up with a Best Supporting Actor nomination if he plays his cards right.

If Plummer has any serious competition in the film it comes from the dog playing Arthur, Oliver's Jack Russell terrier, who has great comic timing and who delivers all the film's best lines, via subtitles. As such, there are a handful of inspired comic scenes but most of them involve either Plummer or the dog.

The Bad
The problem is that, as the talking dog indicates, the film is overburdened by a number of self-consciously quirky directorial techniques (including unnecessary voiceover, animated inserts, flashbacks, photo montages and so on) that actually get in the way of the supposedly serious emotional drama bubbling away underneath.

Similarly, the chemistry between McGregor and Laurent never really convinces and the relentless miserablism eventually starts to grate, while the pacing is often painfully slow.

Worth seeing?
Beginners is worth seeing for a superb performance by Christopher Plummer, but it's ultimately let down by overly quirky direction and fails to engage on an emotional level.

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Content updated: 19/09/2018 16:34

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