Ive been curious about this film ever since I saw the patrician Christopher Plummer delivering a peach of a speech after accepting the Best Supporting Actor trophy at the Oscars this year. For some reason,Beginners,about a seventy-plus plus gay man,did not release in India. Or was it for good reason?
We are,despite our Dostana(s),and endless Kanta Ben-type gags in Bollywood, still not quite prepared for something like the Beginners,which pares everything down to this one thing: that a man who would pretty much be considered at the end of his prime,steps out from the closet,and decides to do something about it. He changes his wardrobe,goes cruising,and finds true love. Watching Plummer making a meal of this mouthful of a part,was a pleasure. This is one of those roles that is not merely good. It is a great role,and a superlative performance.
The death of a long-time spouse can be devastating. Hal (Plummer) deals both with loss and liberation. A life,and a wife,that he liked is now gone,leaving him not your garden variety widower. He puts out ads in the personal sections of the local paper,about being mature and horny,and speedily acquires a much younger lover. The film begins backwards,with Hals death,with his son Oliver (Ewan McGregor) trying to cope with not just a parental death,but a life that he lived looking at his parents living the life they did. To his young eyes,it seemed that his mother and father were forever in an arid relationship,pecking each other on the cheek without discernible passion. We see mother and son spending lots of time,the mother dealing with her Jewishness (this was the time of the Nazis,and Hitler and World War II),and her husbands latent homosexuality,and finding refuge in abstruse art exhibitions,and ironic chats with her son.
Parts of this film feel too fey. Especially because the pretty girl who catches the morose Olivers eye,just happens to be French. Anna (Melanie Laurent,who was in Inglorious Bastards) sports tousled hair,and an air of winsomeness and hurt wisdom. Shes the kind of girl who can take one look at a man and declare that hes sad. But theres enough in the film which saves it from drowning in preciousness: even the dog who communicates with his human owners through speech bubbles seems reasonably cute more often than not.
The reason for the staying with the film is simple. Hals act of finding fulfillment at the fag end,ha ha,of his life,is one of courage and forthrightness,which comes from the honest writing. The film is based on director Mike Millss own fathers story,who came out at 75: the real-life-ness comes from real life. I looked at the husbands,not the wives,when I went to parties,Hal tells his son. Hal agrees to a life of tamping down upon his real self (he knew about his tendencies when he was twelve: at that time homosexuality was considered a disease) when the girl who proposes to him says she understands who he really is,and doesnt really mind. But its never that simple,is it? The sheer delight,erotic desire mixed with pure fun,that is visible in Hals being (a critic called it,rightly,radiating gayness) is really what lifts this film. And gives the fumbling Oliver (McGregors good too) hope that he can actually find someone who will love him for who he is. Even if it is a French girl who also has unresolved daddy issues.