Like a role reversal of The Sum Of Us, BEGINNERS (M) is just as sweet, charming and endearing.
After nearly half a century of marriage, Hal Fields (Christopher Plummer) finds himself a widower and decides to come out as a gay man at the age of 75. His 38 year old only child, Oliver(Ewan McGregor) supports his father’s new found freedoms, having always sensed, subconsciously, his dad’s secret self. Hal’s liberation lasts a fleeting five years before succumbing to inoperable cancer but it’s a full five years, featuring a young lover, a flourishing of new friends and a greater closeness between father and son.
BEGINNERS is two stories – one follows father and son as they traverse the territory of new identity and terminal illness, the other is the son’s dealing with dad’s departure to the undiscovered country and his budding romance with Anna (Melanie Laurent). Oliver meets Anna at a fancy dress party three months after his dad’s death. In a brilliant touch, Oliver is costumed as Sigmund Freud and Anna is suffering from laryngitis. The mute and the mutable.
Using a myriad of narrative devices – flashback, montage, surrealism – writer director Mike Mills affects a richly layered film that hums with humour, heartbreak and humanity. The three leads are stunningly good as one should expect from actors of their calibre, but there are a couple of outstanding supporting players as well.
In flashbacks to his childhood, Mary Page Keller plays Oliver’s mother, Georgia. Her flamboyance, grace and charm are flecked with a nuance of something unfulfilled. The other stand out supporting role is fleshed out by a four legged performer called Cosmo who plays Arthur, Hal’s Jack Russell, who is inherited by Oliver, and becomes a kind of canine chorus to the action.