Beginners (2010) (R)

Oliver is struggling with the history of sadness, not just in his personal life. Though the shit keeps hitting the fan, he keeps plodding, informing the viewer that because this is 2003, he has the ability to be sad. His parents did not have this luxury. They met when racism was rampant, they had to fight in the war, unrest was ingrained in the society, and homosexuality was still considered a mental illness. For much of "Beginners" we notice how Oliver has to navigate his own personal history of tragedy while feeling insignificant in the vaster history of the universe itself.
Mike Mills's "Beginners" is not a work of great quality, but its intimate nature certainly resonated with me. It's the kind of hipster garbage that is pumped out by independent studios again and again where we can watch high class middle ages white people feel things. Yes, this premise has been done so many times that it hardly feels original anymore, but at least in "Beginners" we have likable characters and a fairly interesting plot.
While some may try to claim this movie as a queer film, it's not. Instead, it belongs in a reactionary movement of "normalizing" gayness and queerness in movies. While I'm sure there has got to be a great essay floating around the internet on why we as Americans have to normalize something by making it white and rich, I'm not up for that task. I will ignore the film's potential politics, because it's easier that way.
Oliver (Ewan McGregor) is struggling with the passing of his father, Hal (Christopher Plummer). Five years ago, Oliver's mother passed away and two (almost three) months before the movie opens Hal follows his wife. Right after his wife's passing, Hal sat his son down and made a confession about his sexuality. The news that his father was gay rocked Oliver, but not in a very stereotypical and dramatic fashion. Instead, we see him walking around and trying to rationalize it in very small ways. It feels more honest this way.
But the film doesn't really care about Hal. Oliver is the protagonist of the film, Oliver is the one that we follow down corridors and through hotel rooms, and Oliver's emotional trajectory in the film is the one that we should have feelings about.
As Oliver tries to find love in 2003 we see him reliving his last moments with his dying father. These memories spill over into everyday life. Oliver meets Anna (Mélanie Laurent) and begins to fall in love. It's very quirky and kind of cheesy to watch these two interact, but rewarding nonetheless. Platonic, almost carelessly awkward, and never that sensual—this is the ideal that we are told we must achieve in films. I guess it's noticeable because it never feels false. Maybe that's what's rewarding about the movie, that it makes it look easy.
Oliver narrates the movie in a very stylized way, with voice over that accompanies still shots. It plays like a word-association game and its very charming in an innocent sort of way.
For being so "politically forward" the film rarely feels adventurous or brave. There's nothing exciting or new; yet the notes that it hits are strong and they are powerful. The love that went into the filming is evident; yet something more is needed to make this a great movie.
But at the end of the almost plotless movie, we have to ask ourselves if being happy is better than being complex. Maybe it is, and so for that, I like "Beginners". I am also of the opinion that simplicity is monotonous, therefore I probably won't watch this movie again.

Score: ★★½

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