Beginners by Mike Mills is a perfect way to spend a Sunday afternoon. Ewan McGregor plays Oliver who is coming to terms with the death of his father, while falling in love with French actress Anna (Melanie Laurent). Oliver’s mother died a couple of years earlier and when she did, his father Hal confessed he was gay. At the age of 75 , he wanted to live his real life – so he got himself a younger boyfriend before he got ill with cancer. A quirky story that is actually based on Mike’s life.
It is a quirky film that makes the heavy subject of cancer and having to hide one is gay more palatable. Oliver is the narrator of the story and his drawings as well as pictures of his thoughts intercut the scenes. A more grown-up version of 500 Days of Summer perhaps.
Christopher Plummer at the age of 81 shows his bravery by taking on the role of Hal. (Is that the faint sound of an Oscar-nomination chiming in the distance?)Hal, in the winter of his life, has decided to embrace being gay and once out of the closet, he is all out; yet not annoying and not stereotypical. The notoriously difficult Christopher Plummer makes Hal even likable and really works up to the punchline of the film. It’s an eye-opener, if not for commitment-phobe Oliver (who blames his issues on the example that his parents set with their marriage), it is for the audience who’s been lured into sympathy for Oliver and his lonely crazy mother.
That is the beauty of this film: it’s not just flying the flag for gay-acceptence. It is perhaps even more about self-acceptance: when do you stop blaming others (family, society) for the way your life turns out?
All this is done in a light-hearted, dare I say, funny way. Heavy subjects are handled beautifully: a particular moment of genius when Anna and Oliver recreate a phone conversation between Anna and her father, in which she reveals her fathers emotional problems. In Dutch there is a saying that roughly translates as “every home carries its cross.” Meaning that every family has its problems, in fact everyone has their problems but as Hal shows us: it is never too late to stop those problems interfering with your life.