Wednesday, January 11, 2012

MOVIE REVIEW: Beginners (2011)


About half through Beginners, the second full-length feature by Mike Mills (Thumbsucker, 2005), main character Oliver (Ewan McGregor) spray-paints the following on a blank billboard before making out with Mélanie Laurent: "You Make Me Laugh But It Isn't Funny." He's speaking of course about Anna (Laurent), with whom he is in the beginning phases of courtship, but that also works perfectly as a phrase for describing this film. It's at least better than "comic drama."

I watched this movie 'on demand' via Verizon FIOS. As you can see, it received one out of five stars, which perturbed me and led me to unsuccessfully googling this:

There are forces we are working against that are large and powerful but that doesn't mean we shouldn't try.

I'm giving this a perfect score because it was the best movie I saw that came out in 2011 and I can't find anything to bitch about. If "Ewan McGregor can't quite nail an American accent" is something you feel the need to mention in your film critique then maybe you should reconsider things (life choices, etc.), because the sound of McGregor's voice, while awkward, is also adorable and strangely fitting in this case given the fact that his character is the type that so deeply internalizes everything that when he finally gets around to talking about anything, how else are the words supposed to sound?

This is a quirky film but not annoyingly so (unlike Thumbsucker, which was very good, but not great, in part because of this). There are times when Oliver becomes narrator and he talks about big ideas in a plain but poetic fashion ("This is what the sun looks like in 2003. The stars. Nature ... This is what happiness looked like in 1955," etc.). The point being at once obvious and culturally stunted in the mainstream. Mills presents these interludes as a series of still photos against a black background, which could have been disastrous but it works. Like most everything in this movie, the risks pay off generously.

This also could have ended up feeling like a commercial for gay rights, which would have been fine. There should be more commercials for gay rights (are there any? someone should make a Miller Lite "man up" parody commercial that turns out to be a pro-gay rights ad). It's easy to feel inundated by 'gay issues' because bigot asshole politicians and idiotic talking heads are constantly blathering on about gay marriage in the most belittling and demeaning fashion possible. But that's neither here nor there.

Beginners isn't a movie for or about gay rights. It's a movie about the human condition that utilizes a (secondary) character, who happens to be gay, to help illustrate its theme. This is a love story full of all kinds of emotions. Early on, Oliver's dog (who belonged to his recently deceased homosexual father, Hal, played by the great Christopher Plummer) 'says', via subtitle, "Tell her the darkness is about to drown us unless something drastic happens right now." The entire film is full of that type of manic energy, though it never feels cliche.

Nothing in this movie feels cliche, which is a feat in itself. Nothing feels forced. Every detail has been considered with great care. The acting is tremendous. It's relatable, believable, happy and sad. You should see this one-star motion picture as soon as possible.

SCORE: 10 out of 10



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