It’s that time again! The list of movies I’ve mentioned–but haven’t reviewed on the blog–is getting larger and larger, and I feel this equally large sense of shame at not chipping away at it. So let’s roll the digital equivalent of a 312-sided die and see what we get! And today’s movie is… nope, I said no more superhero movies this month, so let’s reroll. Trying again… we get Beginners? A vaguely queer, indie romantic “comedy” starring Mr. Christopher Plummer and Ewan McGregor? How the fuck did that get on the list again? Ah, right, I watched The Conspiracy of Fear in honor of Mr. Plummer’s death and mentioned that this was one of his more recognizable films. Okay, sure, I guess we’re doing this!
I will fully admit that I went into this film expecting to not like it. Plummer won a Best Supporting Actor Oscar for his role as McGregor’s dad, but he’s a straight actor playing a gay character, something that makes me roll my eyes these days. I’m also not a big fan of the “indie darling” genre of movies. How do I describe what that means to me… Me and You and Everyone We Know is a perfect example. It’s “quirky” dialed up to 11 and thinks it’s so much deeper than it actually is. They’re just not my thing and I rarely have fun watching them. And for the record, I know Me and You and Everyone We Know as the movie with the subplot where a grown woman (unknowingly) sexts a 6-year-old, but the internet as a monolithic entity probably knows it more for originating “pooping back and forth forever,” which of course was part of the sexting. With a 6-year-old. And she doesn’t realize he’s a literal child from all that.
Back on topic, Beginners is told in a non-linear fashion, showing relevant moments from three main periods: When Oliver (McGregor) was a child and his father was at work, leaving his unfulfilled and unhappy mother, Georgia (Mary Page Keller) alone with her thoughts; some time after Georgia has died when his dad, Hal (Plummer), comes out as gay after 44 years of marriage, embracing the gay lifestyle, eventually learning he has terminal cancer, and dying; and some months after that when Oliver meets Anna (Mélanie Laurent, who was Shosanna in Inglourious Basterds) and the two try to figure out what level of their relationship they should be at.
I don’t know if this was the intended theme, but the connecting tissue of all these periods that I couldn’t unsee was the influence of heteronormativity, the world view that heterosexuality is the default mode. You find a woman, you get married, you have 2.5 kids, and anything deviating from that will be shunned! Hal felt he wouldn’t be able to survive living as a gay man in the 50’s, so he hid who he was and married a woman–who, for the record, hid she was Jewish for similar reasons, but also knew Hal was gay before marrying him, which means I don’t know how to feel about all that. After his wife has died, Hal enjoys living as a gay man in the much more tolerant 21st century, making a bunch of gay friends, finding a younger boyfriend, and finally being happy. And as for Oliver and Anna, their relationship comes to a stop when she moves in with him, which is one of the boxes to tick off on the list of what you’re supposed to do in a relationship. They eventually get back together, but there’s a sense of developing their relationship on their terms, not society’s.
Beyond the main two actors, the rest of the cast is relatively small names. Mélanie was in a Tarantino film as mentioned, Mary Page Keller is mostly known for TV appearances, and Hal’s boyfriend Andy (Goran Visnjic), is known for… wait, there was a character named Mark Miller in Elektra? As in comic book writer Mark Miller, who created the character of Elektra? Huh…
All in all this was a fun little non-conventional story. Writer/director Mike Mills deserves some credit for coming up with such an interesting plot! Hm? What’s that? Mills’ father came out as gay after his mother died, and then himself died 5 years later of cancer? Oh, well… um, thanks for sharing your deeply personal story with us, I suppose.
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