‘Beginners’ Review: Modest Rebirth

The journey follows thirty-eight year old graphic artist Oliver (Ewan McGregor) at three defining moments of his life both involving his now deceased father Hal (Christopher Plummer) and new love Anna (Melanie Laurent). The first time frame is shortly after Oliver’s mother’s death. After a seemingly successful though unfulfilling marriage, at the age of seventy five, Hal openly declares himself gay for the first time. Oliver reacts with shock yet genuine acceptance while Hal decides to live out however many years he has left as his true, long-repressed self. He find a handsome, much younger boyfriend Andy (Goran Visnjic) and adopts an opinionated Jack Russell Terrier named Arthur who becomes his most loyal companion. Not long after, Hal finds himself battling a final stage cancer. He refuses to let living stop as Oliver slowly drowns in tough decisions and his father’s eventual death.

Oliver relives his parents’ marriage and his own childhood through a series of free-flowing flashbacks. He also struggles with his present where, struggling to cope with his empty life, he meets a fun, beautiful French actress with whom he quickly develops a loving but troubled relationship. Arthur, now fully dependent on Oliver’s love and company, follows along giving subtitled advice along the way.

The film has a clear appeal to those who enjoy stories about rebirths and starting over. It is also a beautiful love story. However, while the father-son part of the equation feels sincere and heart-felt, the romantic aspect with Anna seems somewhat forced at times. They are both lonely people with parent issues and a hard time settling down. Yet while Anna is lively and full of promise, Oliver has too hard a time putting behind the sorrowful state he seems to have inhabited throughout his life. While his parents’ convenience marriage understandably had its effects on him, it becomes unclear why , having such an energetic, fun-loving father, he seems unable to find any joy in life, happy relationship and all. And while Laurent is such a talented performer, her Anna never fully develops into the committed partner implied at film’s end.

Simplicity is at its best here. A study of human relationships and how life’s many roadblocks eventually form a person’s identity. While it is not particularly special or groundbreaking, it is real and sincere and certainly worth a screening for its beautiful, talented cast alone.