Movie Review – Beginners (2011)

Beginners, 2011.

Written and Directed by Mike Mills.
Starring Ewan McGregor, Christopher Plummer and Mélanie Laurent.


Oliver (Ewan McGregor) is rocked by two announcements from his elderly father Hal (Christopher Plummer): that he has terminal cancer, and that he has a young male lover.

I wanted to start by saying that I was actually privileged to see this film at the close of the Sydney Film Festival. And the reason I wanted to mention that is because I had a phenomenal time watching a raft of amazing pieces of cinema (and small few turkeys – Boxing Gym – guess what, people box in gyms – funny that). So my palette had been well and truly spoiled by the time I arrived at the closing night – and I really, really enjoyed Beginners.

Mike Mills constructs the quirky existence of graphic artist Oliver (Ewan McGregor) and anchors us to his subjective perspective. Oliver is rocked by the death of his mother, and subsequently his father’s revelation that he is gay. The title, Beginners, refers to how this revelatory confession vastly changes Oliver’s father Hal (Christopher Plummer) but also how Oliver himself had constructed his world around certain assumptions about his upbringing and how he now must revisit his life from a new an different perspective.

There are two really beautiful relationships portrayed concurrently in Beginners – Oliver and Hal – understanding each other through this time of flux and Oliver and French Actress Anna (played by the beautiful and great Melanie Laurent – you’ve probably seen her in Tarantino’s Inglourious Basterds).

Ewan McGregor is a charming bugger, and for fans of the ‘Long Way Series‘ or his most iconic and award-worthy performance in Trainspotting – may be more forgiving of some of the not-so-great films that he’s been in, in the recent past. I would confidently say that he is nothing short of excellent in Beginners. His character and his performance are in a a world of their own here; he is sweet, authentic, quirky, and emotionally raw in this one.

Christopher Plummer’s joyous performance is infectious here. He is really great as the simultaneously wise and naive Hal, discovering his sexuality so late that it totally reinvigorates and amplifies his personality (now infused with his sexual identity). Hal’s light shines in Oliver’s life – and anyone not so familiar with just how good Plummer is, see The Insider.

Melanie Laurent is the earthy constant in Beginners and drags Oliver back to humanity and the tangible physical and emotional world.

One final special mention goes to Arthur – Hal’s dog in the film. Mills makes him the conscience of the film with a fantastic use of subtitles; and at times I laughed hysterically at his choice thoughts springing to life via the subtitles – and equally, there was a moment that his character (that’s right he was a character) tore my heart out of my chest and I rolled some tears.

Beginners is a quirkily shot, greatly written/structured and solidly performed film. I highly recommend it -if for nothing else but the best dog in a movie this year (sorry Red Dog).

Blake Howard is a writer/site director/podcaster at the

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