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If youíve ever been possessed by the urge to see the award-winning veteran actor Christopher Plummer boogie down to techno music in a gay bar, youíre in luck.  Only a film as charmingly quirky as Beginners could have the cheeky audacity to stage such a scene with the octogenarian Plummer grooving along to the beat in his local meat market. Mike Millsí story of a father and son and the changes caused by the older manís late-in-life revelations is crafted with sweetness and originality.

Oliver {Ewan McGregor} has been side-swiped with a bunch of awful truths lately; his motherís recent passing has unleashed a new man, or rather released a long-suppressed one.  Hal {Christopher Plummer}, Oliverís dad, is gay and always has been.  Like many other homosexual men, he chose the path of least resistance and married a woman, began a family and put part of himself away in respect for his vows.  Unnerved but accepting of Hal and his new lifestyle and friends, Oliver is then dealt another shock; that his father is dying.  Oliver can only stand by and be supportive as Hal manoeuvres through this new way of life, including the disappointment of being the old man in the gay bar and having a one-sided open relationship, and helps Hal to hide his illness from his young lover.  For the time he has left, Hal lives it with gusto while Oliver is in stasis.  Itís only after Halís death and a long period of mourning that Oliver meets Anna {Mťlanie Laurent }, whose free-spirit both delights and rattles him at a time when he is looking for a stable foundation.  Can Oliver learn to live in the moment and put the past in its place to embrace a new future?

Beginnersí greatest gift is its tremendous charm that just skirts the edges of being precious or schmaltzy.  Whimsically creative visuals, like Oliverís expositional drawings and the psychic commentary from Halís Jack Russell, Arthur {played by an unrepentant scene-stealer named Cosmo} make the film a delight.  When Oliver and Anna first meet, she is stricken with laryngitis and writes her observations about her new friend down on a pad, using her eyes to relate her interest in Oliver and the exercise is Chaplinesque in its sweetness.  Beginners handles its subject matter with heart and honesty but keeps a light, breezy tone even as we share Oliverís realisation that his family was never quite what he thought it was and witness his overwhelmed acceptance of Halís new life.  While played for laughs to some extent (Get down, Christopher Plummer!), Halís wading into the dating pool and the sad facts of life for a gay man on the wrong side of sixty are dealt with respectfully.  Oliver wants to support his father, but even for the mild-mannered artist thereís a feeling of betrayal in the air that Oliver never really knew his dad at all.  To the filmís benefit or detriment, that aspect is not explored in depth.  As in life, sometimes dramas present themselves with no bad guys, no one to blame and so it is with Beginners, where everyone is just trying to live their lives the best ways they can.  Itís just taking Oliver a bit longer to find his way, but with Annaís warmth and his fatherís fearless example, Beginners shows that maybe the path to love isnít measured by other peopleís expectations or how much time it takes to get there.

And I demand an Arthur spinoff!

 

~ The Lady Miz Diva

June 3rd, 2011

 

 

 

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Photos

(Courtesy of  Focus Features)

 

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