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Beginners explores youthful exuberance

Christopher Plummer shines.

I finally got around to watching the movie Beginners the other night. I'd been meaning to see the movie, which stars Ewan McGregor and Christopher Plummer (of Sound of Music fame!), when it was out in the theaters, but I never made it.

Beginners is a semi-autobiographical of the life of the writer/director, Mike Mill's, father. The film's premise revolves a father and son named Hal (Plummer) and Oliver (McGregor). At the age of 75 and after the death of his wife, Hal comes out as gay, saying that he had always repressed his desires during his marriage. A few years later, Hal is diagnosed with untreatable cancer and begins his unstoppable march towards death. Simultaneously, we watch his son deal with his father's homosexuality, and his--Oliver's--own inability to commit to a relationship with a woman because of his parent's sexless marriage.  

The movie isn't presented chronologically at all, but rather is structured in a series of flashbacks, including Oliver's childhood with an absent father, Hal's first time falling in love and Hal's time in the cancer ward. In the present, Oliver has fallen quickly and fully for a French actress, Anna (Mélanie Laurent), who herself has problems with commitment, but has grown more and more dissatisfied with her globe-spanning film career.

I wanted to love the movie, and I almost did. Plummer's Hal is brilliantly timid and nervous, while extolling an almost youthful bravado, as an older man who is enjoying his reclaimed adolescence. The chemistry between McGregor and Laurent is tangible and their relationship is adorable; you actually care that they may thwart their burgeoning relationship with their own stupidity. The older gay community of Los Angeles is also a wonderful side note to the central relationships of the film, as is Oliver's mother, Georgia, a quirky, repressed and under-explored character.

But the movie is disjointed--sorted into snapshots specifically--so minute that it's difficult to truly understand or care for the characters until the end of the movie. The emotional relevance doesn't come forcefully until the very end, and that sort of lag makes it seem very long. It also almost seem to mire itself in depression and cling to its title, but Oliver isn't quite given the kind of agency for his "beginner" life as his father is. His inability to commit to a woman cannot be entirely explained away by saying that he didn't want to replicate his parents' marriage.

Did you like Beginners?