Film Review: Beginners

When a subtitled dog isn’t even the best thing about a film, you know you are on to a winner. Mike Mills’ Beginners is a well-crafted film that offers great performances.

After his mother dies, graphic designer Oliver is shocked by his father’s announcement that he is gay. As Oliver comes to terms with this, his father is diagnosed with cancer. Oliver reflects upon his father’s outlook on life as he embarks on a new relationship with actress Anna…

The story of Beginners is told through a series of flashbacks. In addition to this, the film breaks with the story with short interludes that amusingly summarise different periods in Oliver’s family’s life. These seem to reinforce the point that throughout different times in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries things are the same but different. They chart the changing attitude to different types of relationships; the images of people and landscapes seem to highlight the subtlety of these shifts.

Mills’ film is an affecting drama. The tone of Beginners is reflective rather than bleak. Given the themes that are encompassed, it would not have been surprising if the film had been overly sombre. Instead, there is a pensive atmosphere. The execution of the film is fantastic, all the elements come together very well. The script is great; the characters are believable and the dialogue thoughtful and convincing.

The themes in Beginners can be identified with almost universally. The film concerns itself with love, relationships and grief; themes that most will be able to relate to. The film is also about same-sex relationships. This issue is dealt with sensitively and positively. The film has a point to make, but it carefully guides rather than patronising.

In spite of the serious themes, Beginners also features one of the most adorable dogs to have ever appeared on screen. Arthur, the endlessly faithful companion, is very much a character in his own right. The dog is subtitled, adding a quirky factor to the film. Although the emphasis remains on the human characters, Arthur is a welcome addition and could have been featured more prominently.

Christopher Plummer is fantastic as Hal. He is utterly convincing in the role, and has great chemistry with all of his co-stars. Ewan McGregor also offers a great performance as Oliver, effectively conveying the character’s sadness. Mélanie Laurent is immensely watchable as love interest Anna.

Beginners is a great drama made all the more unique by some of the more quirky elements. Although it will not entice everyone, many should find resonance in the film.