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It's 2003. Thirty-eight year old graphic artist Oliver Fields has just lost his father Hal Fields to cancer, after Oliver's mother Georgia Fields passed away five years earlier. Oliver is naturally a sullen man due to his growing up relationship with his parents (his mother who had a unique view on life) and watching his parents' cordial but somewhat distant relationship with each other, but is more so now because of his personal family loss. Oliver embarks on a relationship with Anna, a French actress. Oliver is hoping that his re-energized relationship with Hal following Georgia's death and Hal's new outlook on life during that time will show Oliver how to act in a loving relationship. After Georgia's death, Hal came out of the closet and began to live with a joie de vivre that did not exist before, which included an open relationship with a much younger man named Andy. Oliver's relationship with Anna has other obstacles, including Anna's own vagabond lifestyle and Oliver needing to... Written by
BEGINNERS is not an easy film. It's very 'talky' and jumps almost randomly between Oliver's boyhood, Hal's coming out and getting sick, and Oliver's on-off affair with zany Anna. Although set in sunny California, there are many under-lit scenes reminiscent of French New Wave cinema or early Woody Allens. Key episodes are, almost perversely, missing. Hal is largely absent from Oliver's mother-dominated boyhood; he later admits to having sex in mens-rooms but we don't see any of that. We see his decline and death but not his wife's. We are not shown any of Oliver's life between boyhood and his father's 'liberation'.
The performances are nothing less than brilliant. Christopher Plummer, plunging into gay life in his seventies and dying with curmudgeonly dignity, will very likely be nominated for an Oscar and miss out (like Colin Firth going down the gay road in A SINGLE MAN). Ewan McGregor gets perfectly under the skin of Oliver, who finds it easier to love his gay dad than commit to a new girlfriend. And Melanie Laurent's Anna is beguiling and disturbing; the viewer to feel what Oliver feels: you want to love her but something holds you back.
There is also a scene-stealing Jack Russell, Arthur, the love of Hal's life who becomes the love of Oliver's. A talking dog! that is to say, writer/director Mike Mills gives Arthur subtitled thoughts every now and again. Kind of weird and kind of wonderful kind of like the movie.
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