Review: Beginners (2010)

The beginning is sometimes the same as the end, depending on your state of mind!

Written By: Mike Mills
Directed By: Mike Mills

I had a lot of time to think about Mike Mills’ tale of love, relationships formed, and the frailty of humanity. The further away from the film I got the more little things that I didn’t like about the film began to peck away at my initial enjoyment of Beginners. By the time I decided to write about the film I had reached a happy equilibrium in my feelings towards Beginners. Warm thoughts and cold thoughts shared an equal place within my cinematic brain, and I knew that I had enjoyed watching Beginners.

I didn’t love watching Beginners, and I place most of the films faults at the feet of Mr. Mills. It may be a simple case of a directors sensibilities not completely aligning with mine, but something about the approach Mr. Mills took to Beginners, visually and narratively, rubbed me the wrong way. At a certain point the asides to compare eras by way of still shots coupled with Ewan McGregor voice over wore thin. That ended up being my main problem with Beginners, much of it wore thin over time. The cuteness of the relationship between Oliver and Anna wore thin, the visual flourishes Mr. Mills would insert also began to wear thin, and so on.

What didn’t wear thin was the performance of Christopher Plummer and the general theme of Beginners. Mr. Plummer’s performance was a thing of beauty. He held back throughout the film, allowing the rest of the picture to be larger and more boisterous than he was. He played off of the colorful directorial flourishes of Mr. Mills quite nicely. That effect was probably unintentional, but the end result was that the quiet earnestness of Mr. Plummer’s performance stood out even more against the rest of the picture.

At the same time the film tackled love, family, and the relationships that we form in a way that I found compelling. I did think that Oliver and Anna’s relationship did get too cute after awhile, but the message underneath all the quirk they exhibited came across to me as profound. Whether someone is twenty, forty, sixty, or eighty they need to be honest to the person staring at them in the mirror. If they can do that they will be happy, and they might be able to overcome the various hangups that plague them. In some areas the themes found in Beginners are laid on too thick, but for the most part I found them well handled.

The performance of Christopher Plummer was a joy to watch, and I got a kick out of the rest of Beginners. Mr. Mills’ film isn’t a home run by any measure, but it is a quality film that has its charms. I’d like to see Mr. Mills make a film without the flourishes that weighed down Beginners. But, if what I’ve read about Mr. Mills is any indication I’m not sure if he is interested in making such a picture. Be that as it may, I enjoyed Beginners, and that is something I’m happy with.




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