When “Beginners” was released this June, it was not seen on very many theater screens. It was only released in about 100 theaters and did not last that long in any of them. Because it was not in many theaters, most people only recently saw the movie when it made its debut online and on DVD. Expectations were high, as most critics had shined the movie with praise, and while it was entertaining enough, after such a long wait, it left something to be desired.
The movie started with a man named Oliver (Ewan McGregor) cleaning out the house of his now deceased father. Then, it jumped back and forth between present and past, with the past being recounted in no particular order. Oliver’s father, Hal (Christopher Plummer), and his final years of life as a gay man were incorporated into the story of Oliver’s path to love. The movie does an excellent job of developing a theme of multi-generational love. Oliver frequently says things such as, “This is the sun in 1955, and the president,” while the appropriate pictures flash on the screen followed by their modern day equivalents. This shows that while time has gone on and color has been added to photographs, human emotion is the same. Happiness still looks like happiness and love is still love.
Oliver does not struggle with his father’s homosexuality, but rather how he could have been married to his deceased mother (Mary Page Keller) for so long and how he could have done so without it being apparent. In one of the clips from the past, Hal explained that Oliver’s mother was well aware of Hal’s homosexuality, proposing to him that she could “fix it.” Flashes from Oliver’s childhood reveal that what Oliver witnessed when he was growing up was a flawed relationship disguised by both his mother and father attempting to feign love.
These flashes, as well as clips of Oliver interacting with his sick father, proved to be the best and most revealing parts of the movie. While the relationship between Oliver and Anna (Mélanie Laurent) is entertaining and cute at first, its development comes scarily close to cliché. Anna also has father issues and they are both afraid of commitment. The progression of their relationship is necessary in order to give meaning to Oliver’s reflections on the relationship between his mother and father, and his father and his father’s lover. Oliver and Anna’s relationship is not developed fully, and at times, feels rushed. Laurent and McGregor are both charming and endearing, but the scenes with Plummer are so much more intriguing that scenes without him felt disappointing.
Laurent’s character Anna claims that, “Half of the people think things will never work out, the other half believe in magic.” This romantic disregard for skeptical viewpoints is appealing, and the movie does a good job of convincing viewers to believe in the magic of human interaction, but it does so in a way that is incomplete and overly optimistic. “Beginners” leaves the viewer feeling happy and fulfilled but uncertain as to why. Perhaps its just the magic of watching a well filmed story of human connection.