Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Film Club Reviews #11

Is it possible to wipe the slate clean and start again, no matter how old you are or how many mistakes you've made. That's the question at the heart of Mike Mills' hopeful, bittersweet Beginners. Are we trapped by convention, age, sexuality, family history? When Oliver Fields' mother dies his father Hal shocks him by revealing his homosexuality. What follows is an education in tolerance and empathy. In the years left before he gets cancer Hal lives a life of freedom, true to himself at last, grabbing what happiness he can. It's an example his son struggles to follow. He meets Anna, a French actress, and embarks on a sweet if fraught relationship with her. It's funny, sad, slightly bewildered, people sabotaging their lives to avoid getting hurt. Nothing is easy for them. Mills fully understands the failure they're capable of, the emotional cages they've locked themselves into. Darkness is ready to flood in at any time. But the film's lightness of touch carries us through. It's visually witty, using Oliver's job as a graphic artist to break up the structure, give it narrative energy. This is how Oliver sees the world, looping memory, subtitled dogs, history as a series of rapid-fire montages. If it's undermined in places by hazy, liberal niceness and romantic scenes that flirt with tweeness, it gets away with it thanks to shaggy-dog charm and a seam of melancholy that runs through it like a grace note. Ewen McGregor's Oliver is a hurt child in a man's body, Christopher Plummer has the good grace to underplay a sure-fire Oscar role and Melanie Laurent's radiance carries Anna beyond the implausible. There are also brief flashbacks to childhood afternoons Oliver spent with his mother, Georgia, (Mary Page Keller) that are arguably the most effective and memorable in the film. So much hinted at, so much unsaid about a clearly talented woman going crazy with boredom, someone who didn't get a second chance.

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