31 July 2011
Written and directed by Mike Mills, Beginners is a film about loneliness. It is about people who seek loneliness, who are also looking ways to alleviate their loneliness. Evading love and human touch, they finally give in and embrace what life offers in companionship and loyalty. Theirs is a life of contrasts.
Thematically, Beginners works really well, but its execution ocassionally fails. And that is because it is too self-aware and clever for its own good. Mills’ stylistic touches more often than not fail to hit the mark and the film (and the premise) feels gimmicky and pointless.
Ewan McGregor is Oliver, an L.A.-based graphic designer. When he’s not designing album covers for hipster bands, he graffitis the walls of the city, writing politically-concious messages. We meet him in the aftermath of his father’s death - he is cleaning up his house, flushing the many pills down the toilet, and piling up garbage bags on the driveway.
Taking the only thing worth taking from his dad, Arthur, the loyal Jack Russell, Oliver continues his sad little life, running away from social contact. In a costume party that his colleagues drag him to, he meets the laryngitis-suffering Ana (Mélanie Laurent). There is an immediate connection, as Ana is just as sad, lonely, and directionless as Oliver. It is disappointing that Ana’s character feels criminally underused, despite the fact that she has plenty of screen time.
As Oliver tries to forge a relationship with Ana, he reminsces the cancer-stricken last few years of his dad’s life, who came out after the death of Oliver mother. As Hal, Christopher Plummer is fantastic, playing an OAP gay activist with great panache and effortless charisma.
The film oscillates between 4 temporal settings: the ‘present’ of Ana and Oliver’s fledgling relationaship, the ‘past’ of Oliver and Hal’s last few years together, the ‘distant past’ of a young Oliver with his mom, and a timeless omniscient narrative of Oliver. As you may guess, this complex narrative drags the film down. And as the above excuse for a synopsis will attest, the film is as directionless as its protagonist.
It drags on without a target or an overarching story. Nothing realy happens, as the arc (or whatever resebmles it) is given away in the very first scenes. The rest is 105 minutes of reflections, cute indie love scenes, and pseudo post-modern cinematic gimmicks.
This is tired filmmaking, with nothing left for interpretation. The film features plenty of psychoanalysis, but even this metaphysical attempt fails miserably - everything about the film is too vague ad blah. This is hardcore mumblecore.