Thursday, June 16, 2011
Beginners is a love story: love between a father and son / son and mother / a man and woman / a man and his father's dog.
Oliver (Ewan McGregor) is a handsome, talented commercial artist, who has recently lost his father, Hal (Christopher Plummer) to cancer. The story is told in a timeline that jumps around between Oliver's present in which he's falling in love with a winsome, French actress, Anna (Mélanie Laurent from Inglourious Basterds), his childhood memories of a slightly off kilter mother (Mary Page Keller), and a time of about 3-5 years ago, when his 75 year old father, Hal, announced he was gay, has always been gay, and now plans to live the life of a gay man.
Interspersed is a lot of stop action, graphic design visuals and musings- like, showing vintage magazine ads with Oliver's voice over saying things like "This is what happiness looked like in the 50's."
And there's the adorable Jack Russell Terrier named Arthur. After Hal's passing, Oliver inherits his father's beloved pet, who refuses to be left out of anything, and seems to be constantly trying to make sense of both their lives.
There's a beauty to the film, a sweetness in the soundtrack, humor outlining the clouds and a celebration of Hal's life as a gay man. But, there's very little conflict in the entire film. Oliver and his father have a very close relationship, not adversely affected by his father's sexuality. Anna is perfect with her messy, sexy hairstyles and all around adorableness, his mother and father's relationship was not a story of betrayal, as his mother married Hal, knowing he was gay. Yet, Oliver is a sad eyed, melancholy man, perpetually; it's not just due to grief or memories, he's just made that way. Which is interesting, considering this is a partly autobiographical movie of the director, Mike Mill's life.
I found this interview with Mills by Todd Kushigemachi on the site North by Northwestern here's some insightful excerpts:
Q: About five years passed between your first feature Thumbsucker and Beginners. How have you changed as a filmmaker?
Mills: I got older, obviously. At least for me, getting older and getting braver have gone a little hand in hand. I used to be quite shy and conformist. For this film, to do those history sections — I’ve always loved that kind of stuff. I never had the brains or the nerve or the bravery to get it in a film. I love thinking in graphic terms, thinking in drawing terms, having sort of documentary aspects, having narrative aspects and blurring that all together. I think I did it the most I’ve ever done it.
This did come at a really specific time. I was in grief after my second parent died. I think that makes you kind of crazy and brave in a weird way. It made me really want to be me. I’ve loved [i]The Unbearable Lightness of Being[/i], the book [by Milan Kundera], since I read it when I was like 19. This film to me is really indebted to that. It has all the same modes. But it took me this long to finally do something that I feel like is a real expression of how important that book is to me.
Q: With a movie this autobiographical, people tend to talk about the movie in terms of you. How similar are you to the character Oliver? How do you respond when people blur the distinction?
Mills: I did a kind of crazy thing, so I get that people are inclined to do that. We all know that all fiction is really a documentary of that author. I’ve done it quite explicitly here. All the stuff with the dad, I went through all that. The job as a graphic designer, I’ve done a lot of that stuff. But if you just saw the film, and you meet me, Mike, the longer you spent with me, the more you’d be disappointed, the more I’m different from Oliver.
Oliver is just one sliver of me that I turned into a story, and when you turn it into a story, that’s already one abstraction, one untruth, one distillation. And then Ewan plays it. That’s another transformation. Ewan’s much more handsome — his charm, his spirit, psyche and soul. If anybody else played it, the Oliver that people see would be a different person. Obviously there’s a lot of me in it, and also, it’s not me. When I see it, I don’t think that’s me.
Q: Still, how do you make a movie for an audience that is also very personal?
Mills: To me, the best way that I can figure out how to do a movie that’s really for an audience is by using concrete, personal details. Things that are very authentic and specific that I know and can report on intimately. That authenticity is what will make it communicable to strangers.