Beginners (2010)

Is Ewan McGregor just awesome, or what?  He truly brings his A-game to every role, and he refuses to shy away from anything, whether it seems too “out-there” or taboo or even if it seems like a risky film that could damage his career if it fails.  I love this about him; I respect this about him.  In a recent interview promoting the recent latest blockbuster Focus, Will Smith spoke about his career and said that in previous years, he had been overly concerned with making sure that his movies were hugely popular and that they made a lot of money.  If they weren’t, he felt like he had failed.  Now, he has let go of this obsessive, limiting mindset and has decided that he is more interested in creating.  The beauty of the art of acting, of exploring the human mind by diving into and becoming someone other than yourself is his newfound passion.  I think it is evident that Ewan McGregor shares this passion.  Examining the list of characters he has played, I believe it must be that he delves into the bodies and minds of these vastly different people because he is unsure who he is himself.  I tend to really enjoy watching films with actors who I see this in; Beginners is one of them.

Beginners is really a simple film. The film takes place over three distinct time periods and flips back and forth between them, but this is not confusing, nor meant to be, and there are no grand action sequences or diabolical twists.  This film is simple, it’s about people, it’s about life and everything, every emotion rather, that comes with it.  We see sadness and happiness, of course.  We see sympathy and confusion, we see love.  We see it all.  Yet, this is still a simple film.  There are a hand-full of characters, mostly quite likable, and we get to watch their lives as they are for about a month. Oliver (McGregor) has been through a bit of a rough patch: he lost his mother to cancer; immediately after, his father tells him he is gay; he watches him fall in love with a younger man; and then he watches his father, too, die of cancer.  Oliver does not struggle with coming to terms with the fact that his dad is gay, but with the idea that his childhood was a ruse, a lie, it occurred under false pretenses.  Oliver struggles not with the fact that his dad loves a man, but that his dad loves any person other than his mom.  To make matter worse, he is hurt by seeing his father loving a man his own age and feeling as though his father loves this man more than he loves him.

Oliver’s life is in an odd place now.  It’s a dark place for sure, yet it is a place where everything can really start to change.  This place is called rock-bottom.  Of course, no, Oliver is not an alcoholic, nor a drug addict, he is not poor (not completely), but he has reached the bottom of the barrel.  He is hopelessly lonely, he is endlessly upset, he is bored, and he is apathetic despite desperately wanting to be ambitious and fill his life with joy and experiences.  And in comes Anna, the French actress with laryngitis. Anna and Oliver meet at a Halloween party that Oliver is dragged to by his friends against his self-loathing, depressed will. The importance of friendship.  Anna changes everything.  Anna makes Oliver happy.  Oliver does the types the things and has the types of experiences that he wants to fill his life with when he is with her.

I do not outline these reviews before I write them, I just let the ideas and words flow.  Thus, often when I write a review I find out what I think the film I am reviewing is truly about, and sometimes I discover whether or not I actually like the film.  In writing this review, I have realized that I believe Beginners is a film about love, and I like it quite a bit.  I won’t say that I love this film, but I am very happy that I decided to watch it.  Anna and Oliver’s relationship is so telling; it is so true.  The way Oliver feels before he meets Anna is a way people really feel.  I mean, I have felt that way in my life.  And the way Oliver feels when he meets Anna is so reliving.  Oliver believed his life had little meaning, no one would miss him too much if he vanished from the earth, and he wouldn’t feel as though such an occurrence would have deprived him of anything special.  Then, BANG! He meets Anna and suddenly everything is better, everything is not pointless, life is not just happening to him — he is taking charge now.  I think this is a powerful movie because of the revelation of love that Oliver experiences.

I still think this movie is simple, in the same way as I described it be above.  However, what this movie is about is also complex.  The depth of human emotion is bottomless. Beginners stares this complexity right in the face and tries to convey it with its simple characters and plot. A well-written script and tremendous performances, including an Oscar-winning turn from Christopher Plummer as Hal, Oliver’s dad, help to achieve this goal of the film. If you happen to be in the mood for a thought-provoking and subtly, yet deeply emotional film, I highly recommend Beginners.