Is Beginners (2010) worth watching? Beginners Movie Review - Ewan McGregor, Christopher Plummer
Updated: Jul 10
In the wide palette of movies releasing every year, we tend to encounter different genres and film-making techniques. But amid this plethora of movies, the essence of human emotions seems to get lost in most of them. The film-makers are now so focused on making these huge big-budgeted spectacle films, that they usually neglect the thing which makes us humans, human - our emotions. So, when a movie like Beginners comes around that explores the course of human emotions, it directly strikes your heart-strings.
Inspired by the Director, Mike Mills’ personal life, Beginners is a story about Oliver Fields (Ewan McGregor) as he reminisces about his father’s life after his imminent death, while developing a romantic relationship with a lady named Anna. There’s not much of a story or even a plot structure in this movie, Mills takes the Richard Linklater route of narrating this movie and uses the characters as well as the situations to make his audience engrossed in the narrative. The centrepiece of Beginners is the father-son relationship and we watch it develop to an extent when Hal, Oliver’s father, comes out of the closet as a gay man after his wife and Oliver’s mother, Georgia, passes away. Hal has always identified himself as a homosexual, even throughout his un-romantic marriage with a woman, and now after the death of his wife, he wants to take the initiative and do something about his feelings before it gets too late.
The movie focuses on two points in time of Oliver’s life, the past when his father was alive and was experiencing his new lifestyle, and the present where he meets a wonderful woman while grieving over his father’s death. The movie juggles between these two with intermittent flashback sequences and connects them in a surprisingly efficient way.
You see, Beginners is not just a movie which presents a romantic-comedy with some drama sprinkled around it, but instead it’s an intimate dive into characters’ life. I mean, there is no end goal or a conclusion, this movie is trying to reach, it rather tries to take you on an emotional journey with its characters, and it manages to achieve this goal by making the characters and their struggles realistic and relatable.
There’s a reason why I chose this particular movie to watch on a Sunday Night. Having lost my own father in the early months of 2022, I was looking to find solace and to experience grief through someone else’s eyes and I found everything I was searching for, in the character of Oliver and I connected with him immensely. The writing and characterization of Oliver feels very mature, he tries to put on a happy face for the rest of the world but still has this sadness in his eyes, which was caught by Anna and that’s how their romantic relationship started. Mills thoroughly understands his characters and presents them by slowly peeling them layers after layers.
The Positives and Negatives of Beginners
The movie handles the coming out of Oliver’s father and his life as a gay man well enough but falls a bit short to be termed as perfect. The focus was so much on Oliver and his romantic relationship that Hal’s journey as a homosexual felt a little left out. Don’t get me wrong, the attention was indeed there for Hal’s story, but it could have benefited with a bit more development on his life and struggles after coming out of the closet at the age of 75.
The performance of the actors throughout the movie is just phenomenal. Christopher Plummer (who you might know from movies like Knives Out, 12 Monkeys, Up and Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country) embodies the character of Oliver Fields with subtlety and sincerity. Whenever he is on the screen, he makes an impact with his comedic timings and his emotional capabilities. No wonder why he won the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor for this role. Another actor who absolutely shines is Ewan McGregor playing the role of Oliver Fields. He totally gets into the skin of his character and conveys all the emotions, feelings and dilemma perfectly. But if I had to name one actor who just steals the spotlight of this movie, then I would certainly say it’s the dog, Arthur, played by the canine actor Cosmo. The way Mike Mills used this animal to progress the story and made him such an intermediate yet integral character to convey the themes as well as to make characters meet and develop connection among themselves, is just commendable. Certain scenes reciprocate by having the dog bark and then displaying subtitles to unveil that he is trying to speak something. And such minor details in this film add up and make up for even better experience than what was intended to be.
But, it’s not all rainbows and butterflies with Beginners. Mélanie Laurent really gives an emotional, lively yet powerful performance as Oliver’s romantic interest, Anna Wallace, but certain things related to her character feel rather underdeveloped. This movie is about Men and Fathers, and while Oliver is grieving the loss of his father, Anna is dealing with father issues of her own. It makes sense to give your female lead a similar theme as your male lead to make them connect more emotionally, but this entire Anna and her father thing could have used more exploration. It was initiated in a conversation, but then the film just sidelines this and never gives more insights about Anna’s father. In a movie concerning father-child relationships, this could have made even more of an impact, but instead takes it down a notch.
The core romantic setup of our main leads in this movie doesn’t quite hit the mark. When Oliver and Anna meet for the very first time, it is indeed portrayed in an endearing and heart-warming way, but it still feels forced and far away from reality. It can be clearly seen that the heart of the story for Mike Mills was the romantic journey of this couple and all the highs and lows they go through, so much so that he didn’t quite crack the code for setting up this journey, i.e. the first meeting of this couple, which plays an important role in such romance themed movies. But once it is set up, and Mills gets the hang of writing and the plot, it indeed keeps on getting better.
The writing can be appreciated solely by the way it connects the past of Hal and future of Oliver. Hal’s experience and lifestyle at many points is used to inspire Oliver as well as to progress his story. Both Oliver and Anna are not ready to get committed to a serious relationship, Oliver because of his parents’ relationship, and Anna because of her being an actress and having to switch between places for her job. And the movie does an applaudable job to make these characters find solace in each other without it being filled with clichés.
While watching the movie, you will notice that it presents little moments and small segments in a narrated sequence without any context, and that’s what Beginners is all about - little precious moments of our life that make us who we are. There is no build-up for these segments, they come abruptly and tell you in your face that it is a happy moment or a sad moment. Everything about this movie will strike a chord in you. The cinematography goes well with the themes, and feels minimalistic, warm, and doesn’t get very overstuffed. And the same thing applies to the soundtrack too. Composed mostly of instrumental slow piano tunes, the soundtrack is used in a very clever way. There are no heavy drums, loud bass or uplifting music to set up a scene, but just music which complements the overall tone of the movie. The film eradicates the use of any background music and uses complete silence, most of the times when characters interact, and you get this intimate feeling which brings you closer to the characters.
Conclusion of this Film Review
Beginners is an ambitious movie which celebrates life and the little moments of it. Unlike the typical romantic comedies, it doesn’t rely on stereotypes and feel-good factor to make you engrossed in the narrative, it does the same by taking its audience on an emotional journey through character’s eyes. The premise is interesting, and it touches some intriguing subjects like loneliness, death, sexuality, and love, while carefully developing and exploring them.
This movie is about people and the emotions which make them. We all are artists of our own life and are working to create an ideal future that we desire, but with struggles, emotions and mindsets of our own. And out of billions of people in this word, Beginners tells the emotional & romantic journey of a few people and makes you experience their life in a very intimate way. There’s subtlety and realism in this film, and once you complete watching it, it will leave you with that satisfactory feeling.
So, to answer whether or not Beginners is worth watching, yes it is absolutely worth your time IF you know what you are getting into. It’s not one of those movies which you can watch at anytime of the day, and you will be entertained. It requires you to be able to understand the characters, their emotions and struggles, which was in fact the motive of writing this article. This article was written in a way to give the readers an overall idea about this movie, and set them in the right mood.
So, if you have read this article till this point, then you might have an overall notion about this movie and its themes. So, watch it on a relaxing Sunday evening and experience this rare yet beautiful piece of cinema.