He thinks of this often because he has just lost his father, Hal (Christopher Plummer), to cancer. And he has come to realize that Hal did not dislike his mother (Mary Page Keller), but was gay. This piece of information, revealed when Hal was 75 and so close to death, doesn’t seem to bother Oliver (Ewan McGregor) so much as it does play a role in the distance he keeps himself from others. His deepest emotional connection at age 38 is with his Jack Russell terrier, Arthur, whose thoughts are subtitled for the audience. (This gag falls flat, though thankfully isn’t too recurrent.)
And then comes Anna (Mélanie Laurent), a beautiful and fragile French actress. Their first few encounters are so clever in the approach, with a laryngitis-stricken Anna communicating through a mixture of sign language and a small notebook. Here is a couple that may not be that fun to go out with, but they fit well with each other, and that’s good enough for this story.
Beginners was written, directed and lived by Mike Mills. But the movie is not therapy. That would imply negative feelings and resentment towards his father and how Mills himself turned out. No, Beginners is a confident and honest expression.
It is such an appropriate title, too. Beginners sees two men becoming satisfied with their lives and opening up for the first time in such a way they probably didn’t think they could at their ages. The lesson is that one should never give up on the chance to be happy.
It all sounds so mawkish and cliché. But Oliver, Hal and Anna are such relatable characters that, despite minor missteps in the script’s dialogue, are completely rounded humans. How rare that can be.
A Short Film about Making Beginners (14:33): In this featurette (presumable shot in black-and-white to mimic a student film), director Mills touches on the difficulties of writing, the talents of the cast/crew and more. Behind-the-scenes footage and comments from McGregor, Plummer and Laurent enhance this piece.
Also included is a hand-drawn Beginners Promo (1:02).