Saturday, February 18, 2012

Ten Quick Thoughts on...Beginners

1. Would probably call this a fairly average low-budget indie. I didn't think it was a bad movie, but now that I am getting time to write about it, I am struggling to come up with much to say. It certainly didn't stick with me in any sort of lasting way.

2. The film is directed by Mike Mills, who also made the film Thumbsucker, which I am almost 100 percent sure you never heard of. The film, which is about a graphic designer/album artist struggling to move on in the wake of the death of his father who had recently came out about his homosexuality, is largely autobiographical. And yet he makes no mention of his stint as the bassist of R.E.M. Odd.

3. One thing I liked about the film was its nonlinear structure. It jumps around from the present day to his father's declaration to the boy's young life with his mother to the old man's declining days with no concern of whether the audience can keep up. It's quite easy to follow really. While the structure is nothing revolutionary, I suppose it is just nice every once in a while to see a film that doesn't think the audience is chock full of morons.

4. Ewan McGregor did not blow me away in the movie, but he still registered a reserved, nuanced performance as the Mills stand-in. He seemed content to let Christopher Plummer stand out in their minutes together. It wasn't a struggle to take over the scene. I came out of watching the film just sort of glad to remember that he certainly is still a very good actor when he has decent material. While I'm sure he has provided other examples of this since Trainspotting, it is often easy to simply remember him as the mulleted Obi-Wan Kenobi in George Lucas's craptacular Star Wars prequels.

5. The talking dog thing was kind of cool. A really fun absurdist touch in a film that was otherwise quite grounded.

6. This would probably be a good place to talk about Christopher Plummer's performance as the McGregor character's newly liberated gay father. Let's face it: Plummer is almost guaranteed to win an Oscar for this performance. Perhaps the performance was too built up or maybe I was just expecting the kind of pyrotechnics that usually merit an actor Academy consideration, but I really didn't and don't see what the major deal was about the performance. Don't get me wrong: Plummer was reliably good. The scene where he calls his son to see what type of music was playing at the gay club was really touching and the one where he finds out that his cancer is terminal is heart-breaking. But I definitely didn't leave the movie thinking, "Wow, that is an indelible career-capper." I'm thinking it is one of two things: 1) They are basically giving him the Oscar as a Lifetime Achievement Award or 2) maybe I am just missing the point. Maybe I'm thinking that he should have been more outlandish and "flamboyant," and maybe the fact that he underplayed it and made it less-attention grabbing is what makes the performance so wonderful. A weaker actor may have taken the role and turned the character into Nathan Lane in The Birdcage. Anyway, I will not be disappointed if he does take home his Golden Boy. The guy has been in a ton of movies and has been nominated once, for something called The Last Station...

7. ...this being said, if Plummer was going to get an Oscar, he should have gotten it for 1999's The Insider, in which he played 60 Minutes reporter Mike Wallace. He was absolutely electric.

8. Should probably touch on the performance of Melanie Laurent, who plays the love interest McGregor's character meets at a Halloween party not long after the death of his father. She is fine in the picture, although it is tough to top the performance she gave in her American film debut, Quentin Tarantino's Inglorious Basterds. This being said, she is saddled with a little bit of a poorly developed character here. She seems to play the whole thing with a bit of inflexible melancholy. She whines about her relationship with her father, which is poorly developed. Their meet-up is maybe a little bit too cute, with him dressed up like Sigmund Freud and she playing silent-era Charlie Chaplin. All in all, I frequently saw myself wishing they would move away from their scenes and go back to the ones with McGregor and Plummer. While I did not think that Plummer was incredibly award-worthy, the scenes between father and son were certainly more interesting than the machinations of McGregor and Laurent's characters' developing relationship (honestly, I can't even remember if they got together in the end).

9. When you consider that this was a true story, you have to conclude that Mills did not really like the guy who his father ended up with after he declared his true sexuality. Here, Mills directs former ER heartthrob Goran Visnjic to a performance that is truly insipid. Now here was the preening caricature that Plummer so deftly avoided. Not only did he write a line for Plummer's character that lets you know that the old fellow was simply settling, but he has Visnjic play the role with a haircut that has to go down as one of the worst cinematic stylings since Javier Bardem in No Country for Old Men.

10. I'm struggling for a tenth, so let's just give it to Plummer and say that the man sure does look dapper in a smart sweater/ascot combination. Maybe one day down the line, I will watch the film again to honor his fashion sense and reconsider his performance free of the recent hype.

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