Artist, writer, director, it might be six years since Mike Mills’ last film, Thumbsucker, hit theatres, but you can be sure he hasn’t just been twiddling his thumbs in the meantime. His latest project, written and directed by, is Beginners, a film, you might have guessed, about new experiences.
Shortly after his mother’s death, Oliver’s (McGregor) life is doubly rocked again; his father (Plummer) comes out of the closet, and shortly reveals his much younger male lover. As you might expect, this is a lot to take in, but it’s also a lot to experience for elder statesman Hal. All the while Oliver starts a love affair of his own – meeting the alluring Anna (Laurent) at a party (and enjoying a fairly unique first few hours together when she can’t talk) – although with everything else going on in his life, he struggles to get a grasp on what the feelings of his own really mean.
Loosely based on the true story of director Mike Mills’ own aged father coming out, stated however, that this is more of an ‘inspired by’ story, rather than a mimicry of real life, Beginners is a disarmingly sweet-natured portrait of two people, one lost, one now found, making their way towards love.
The film feels like a matured, LA-set rendition of Submarine, in both narrative tone – though the central father and son are both well into their years, their character arcs could certainly be described as a ‘coming of age’ tale – and sumptuous aesthetics and playful metaphors – powerful use of colour and quirks such as what Oliver’s dog is thinking.
Beginners is wholly dependent on its life-affirming and absorbing characters with acting praise due across the board. McGregor struggled at times with an American accent but it’s made up for quite effortlessly by great chemistry with Melanie Laurent and especially Christopher Plummer.
Heartfelt and loving, yet possessing the bittersweet edge a film like Beginners sorely to stave off appearing overly twee, Mike Mills’ new film has all the caricatures of an ‘indie’ production but the skilled filmmaker knows how to keep each just in check, to hold firm on a central narrative. There’s rewatch value galore too.