Sincerity is something that cinema more often than not lacks. It is scarce to find films (especially romantic comedies) that manage to enchant you with both wit and charm, yet carve enough room to be both poignant and most importantly sincere. We were last graced with a film that so delicately balanced both of these emotions in 2003 when Sofia Coppola released Lost in Translation and almost a decade later Mike Mills’ Beginners manages to strike that perfect balance and do so with such an artful edge.
Beginners is an almost autobiographical account of the thirty-something Oliver (performed spectacularly by Ewan McGreggor) who learns soon after his Mother’s death that his Father is not only homosexual, but incredibly ill. Mills uses that foundation as a springboard to explore the nature of love & existentialism.
Beginners succeeds because it relishes in the intimacy of intimacy. Oliver & Anna (Melanie Laurent) have chemistry that doesn’t explode in a half-baked way to imply their love, but just crackles. You feel like you’re almost watching a documentary of two lovers. Their conversations are quirky enough to not feel tacked on by Mills, but to feel heartfelt. Watching their love unfold is one of the most satisfying things about Beginners and is how romance films should unfold.
To merely pass Beginners off as a romantic comedy would not only be naïve, but would also desist from the real relationship at hand between Oliver & his father Hal (Christopher Plummer). Their relationship throughout the film is shown through a series of narrative jumps, which depict how Oliver & Hal’s relationship ultimately affects Oliver & Anna’s relationship. The way Mills’ presents relationships feels like every experience these characters encounter influences their next decision in an almost hauntingly realistic way.
Mills was a graphic designer before working as a director and you can clearly see his artistic edge in Beginners. Colours are flaunted beautifully, vandalism is presented in an artistic manner and the photography is just sublime. It is the work, not only of an auteur, but also of a true artist.
It seems the only word to really sum up Beginners is poignant – an almost sucker punch of emotion, impossible to sniff out until you experience it first hand. You’ll laugh (the humour in Beginners is the life force of the whole film, essentially stopping it from becoming a melancholic view of life) and you’ll feel for the characters. Mills is not only an artist, but one of such sincerity that it’s impossible to draw yourself away from his tale unscathed.
Review by LiveWire Young Film Critic, Jay Crosbie (July ’11)
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