PLOT: Oliver (Ewan McGregor), a lonely graphic artist, starts a new relationship with a beautiful young actress (Melanie Laurent), while reflecting his late father's (Christopher Plummer) final years, during which he outed himself as a gay man.
REVIEW: BEGINNERS was one of the hottest deals to emerge from the 2010 Toronto Film Festival, with the rights being snapped up by Focus Films, which is only now, nine months later, starting to put the film in theaters. Waiting such a long time was certainly a calculated move on their part, as, after seeing the film it's obvious that Christopher Plummer is all but a lock for a best supporting actor nod at this year's Academy Awards.
It's amazing that at eighty-one, Plummer, rather than slow down like some of his contemporaries, is getting some of the best roles of his life. Playing Hal, a man who at the ripe old age of seventy-five, decides to finally acknowledge his homosexuality, Plummer's never anything less than superb.The role could have easily become a caricature, but Plummer's performance, coupled with the thoughtfulness of writer/director Mike Mills, makes this a fully formed, three-dimensional character.
At seventy-five, Hall knows his time on Earth is short, and, with the grudging support of his son played by McGregor, he makes the most of his final years. This includes a relationship with a much younger man, as played by Goran Visnjic, which allows Hal, for the first time in his life, to experience the satisfaction of romantic love. The fact that Hal spent forty years lying to his wife isn't glossed over either, with frequent flashbacks to their marriage showing how deeply his lack of interest in her hurt his wife, and made Oliver reluctant to ever allow himself to really fall in love. It's really inevitable that Plummer will at least get an Oscar nomination for the part, and depending on who he's up against, he's got a very good chance to win.
However, BEGINNERS is not Hal's story. Rather, the film is actually mostly focused on his son Oliver's burgeoning relationship with Melanie Laurent's character. Between this, and THE GHOST WRITER, McGregor really seems to be getting his groove back, and he's excellent as the romantic, if angst-ridden lead.
This is a huge step up for director Mills, whose last film, THUMBSUCKER was good, but not quite as polished. Here, Mills seems to have really found his voice, which is still just as quirky (in a good way), but a lot more emotional than you would have guessed from THUMBSUCKER. In fact, I'd say that the relationship with Laurent is very reminiscent of early Woody Allen- right down to the period jazz score.
Laurent is wonderful in her part, and, in yet another testament to the strength of the casting and the material, she never comes of as the typically idealized love interest so often found in films like this. Like Oliver, her character has her own baggage to overcome, and Laurent, shows that she can be just as good in something light like this, as she was in the meaty INGLORIOUS BASTERDS.
That said, the scene-stealer here isn't Laurent, McGregor, or even Plummer. Nope. That role is taken by a Jack Russell terrier named Cosmo, who plays Oliver's inherited dog, Arthur, who comments on the action through the use of subtitles. I know, I know- it all sounds a little too "cute", but it works. The dog is pretty great.
Coming along at the same time as so many big-budget blockbusters, the indie-flavored BEGINNERS feels like just as much a breath of fresh air as Woody Allen's MIDNIGHT IN PARIS did a few weeks ago. Plummer's performance alone makes it essential, but other than that, it offers a nice breather from the summer carnage we've been seeing on-screen, and is one of the better indie offerings I've seen so far this year.