Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Short Take: Beginners

This review was originally published on Pol Culture.

The great Christopher Plummer is an elegant, amiable presence in writer-director Mike Mills’ Beginners. He plays an elderly gay man who comes out after his wife’s death, and the character is determined to make the most of life in the time he has left. Plummer glides through his scenes, hitting just the right notes, and his beaming, impish smile stays with one long after the credits roll. The film could use a lot more of him. Plummer appears entirely in flashbacks. The actual story is about the character’s son (Ewan McGregor), and his efforts to put his father’s death behind him. Key to this is his budding relationship with a pretty actress (Mélanie Laurent) who has father issues of her own. The romance is the story’s centerpiece, but it’s a glum one. As soon as the couple seems to lighten up and show some playfulness, the angst wells up again. The film is oppressively earnest, and shallow to boot. Mills tries to conceal the lack of depth with storytelling gimmicks: extensive flashbacks, jump cuts within scenes, and single-image montages narrated with trite philosophizing. He even includes gaudy absurdist touches, such as the subtitled fantasy conversations with a pet dog. All he manages is to highlight the dullness of the main story. Whenever the film cuts back to Plummer, one breathes a sigh of relief. Overall, the picture is a dreary, forgettable effort.

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