Right from the outset, the captivating visuality and clever screenplay make Beginners compulsive viewing. Mike Mills, a filmmaker, artist and graphic designer takes us a highly personal journey in to the mysteries of love. This movie tells the tale of a man who, after his mother dies, discovers his Father is gay. These events mirror Mills’ own life, and the father lives a late and aggressively gay life until succumbing to cancer.
As the man tries to make sense of the lives his parents lived, he struggles with his own reaction to growing up in a house full of secrets and lies. We are taken on a poignant and bittersweet journey as he tries to untangle the jumble of emotions that is love. His fathers late in life acceptance of who he really was has a profound effect on the son, who this tale is all about. This is not a gay love story, but the risks one will take for love.
He wasn’t shocked by his father coming out and living a gay lifestyle, as much as the risks he was taking in the name of love. Ewen McGregor, who oozes the sadness, bewilderment and confusion that this character is feeling beautifully portrays the man, Oliver. He knows his parents weren’t in a loveless marriage, it was more of a settled complacency where love took second place.
Oliver also has to come to terms with the fact that the relationship he has always aspired to wasn’t what it seemed at all. His makes him reconsider his whole life, and wonder what he would do for love. His father, played by Christopher Plummer, suddenly presents him with a new role model, not as a homosexual, but as a man determined to get as much out of life as he can in the short time he has left.
Oliver finds himself alone with all his confusion and his dad’s dog for company, when he meets Anna, a French actress who is only staying in Los Angeles for a short time. She shakes him out of his melancholy but he falls in love with her, but which role model will be follow, the repressed but not unhappy man he grew up with, or the wild grab it while you can older version?
There is no fixed time that this movie takes place, the scenes from the past have been ordered in the way that Mills best thinks suits his life’s journey. Like the filmmaker himself, Oliver is a graphic artist and the doodles, sketches and graffiti represent his increasing self-awareness. He has in depth conversations with the dog, whose responses are delivered via sub titles.
Beginners is an extraordinary piece of filmmaking in that it embraces all manner of movies. From the silent era when Oliver and Anna are conversing with pen and paper as she has lost her voice, to the slide shows and sketches that Oliver arranges to help illustrate the process as he mentally works out the meanings of life and love.