Thursday, February 16, 2012

Beginners: Gormless

      We missed Beginners when it played for months at The Esquire, but caught up with it on Movies on Demand (thanks cable) because the conventional wisdom seems to be that Christopher Plummer will win the Oscar.  He probably will because he’s one of the oldest nominees.  Max von Sydow is older, but none of his movies have been as popular as or play on TV as much as The Sound of Music.  Plummer and Cosmo, the Jack Russell terrier who plays his dog Arthur, are the liveliest elements of this film.  

Christopher Plummer
      It’s based on writer-director Mike Mills’ own life and he may have needed greater emotional distance from the subject matter to give it some narrative juice.  Mills uses some cute (gimmicky?) ways to tell the story by repeating specific beats
with slight changes in the imagery, but this was done a decade ago in Amélie and Run Lola Run.  The plot, told by Oliver (Ewan McGregor), a cartoonist/illustrator, through flashbacks, is about his father (Plummer) coming out at seventy-five after his wife’s death.  He fully embraces gay friends, gay activities (none of the more louche ones), and ends up with a much younger boyfriend, played by Goran Visnjic, who must be from eastern Europe because Visnjic cannot dilute his accent.  This character has a very interesting passive-aggressive, self-loathing aspect and the ugliest haircut I’ve seen in a movie in years.  I guess that’s to show that there is diversity in L.A. gay culture.  The intriguing relationship between Oliver’s father and mother is never dealt with in a scene between the two characters, but only through narration.  Mary Page Keller plays Oliver’s mother briefly and she is vital and eccentric and I missed her terribly while having to drag through Oliver’s dreary relationship with Anna, a French actress, played by Mélanie Laurent.

Ewan McGregor, Cosmo,
and Mélanie Laurent
      The Oliver/Anna relationship is the primary narrative thrust of the movie and that was a mistake.  Laurent was exciting in Inglourious Basterds (one of the best movies of the past five years), but the writing was very strong and Tarantino loves actors and takes them places they probably never thought they’d go.  Mills doesn’t know what to do with Visnjic (rewrite some scenes right off), doesn’t realize what he has in Keller, and provides little for Laurent to play after her very original first scene in which she meets Oliver, but cannot speak to him.  Ewan McGregor has to take the lion’s share of the acting blame.  I’ve seen him in many movies, but the only one in which he seemed like a star was Trainspotting.  Otherwise, he’s a very attractive, genial leading man whether faced with heroin addiction, a dying courtesan lover, or the Star Wars mythology.  However, he isn’t compelling.  He matches up well as Plummer’s son as he did in Big Fish as Albert Finney’s, but neither possesses Plummer’s aristocratic hauteur that he has used to comic or chilling effect nor Finney’s rough-hewn, intelligent masculinity.

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