I will make no compromises about my admiration for Christopher Plummer, one of the great over-looked stars of the cinema. Yet, not even he can save Beginners from entering some pretty muddy territory. Writer/director Mike Mills bases his film on the real-life story of his father, a closet homosexual until the age of 75. Millsí screen counterpart is graphic designer Oliver (played by Ewan McGregor). He expresses neither shock nor much surprise when his father, Hal (Plummer), reveals himself to be gay.
Using postcards from different eras for shorthand, Mills jumps between Oliverís childhood story, the fatherís struggle with cancer and the events following the latterís demise. Some connective tissue manifests itself in the form of Anna (Melanie Laurent), an actress who falls in love with Oliver.
Plummer experienced something of a resurgence in popularity with his career-defining performance as Mike Wallace in The Insider (1999). With Beginners, he doesnít have anywhere near as much to do. Once he comes out, thatís it. The movie ends before it even starts. As for an Oscar moment, Plummer appears to be given no space to work in some magic. Itís exactly the type of work that undermines Plummerís abilities and gives rise to doubts about his talents as an actor.
Melanie Laurent is a beautiful woman but her acting here carries as much charisma as an empty orange peel. Meanwhile, Ewan McGregor stumbles rather badly. His graphic designs become visually fatiguing as he puts pen to paper in an attempt to be either profound or funny. Quite frankly, he succeeds in being neither for very long.
Beginners comes from the school of filmmaking that encourages shooting with a digital camera regardless of the story. The Red Camera device fails to bring any depth to Millsí plot. Speaking of which, the slight premise (a common trend in independent cinema) feels old-hat now. More emphasis needs to be given to getting the story right first, and then obsessing over technical perfection later. Being John Malkovich (1999) is a prime example of an original work with visual style to spare. Mills would do well to seek out this film and learn from it. On the basis of his personal project, Beginners, having an idea is hardly enough. I encourage him to think through and develop the script more before embarking on a costly endeavour like this. Like its once great star, the film runs out of steam within the first half an hour Ė not a very good beginning.
(Released by Universal Studios Home Entertainment and rated "R" for language and some sexual content.)