That term first came to my mind when, as a child, I’d try to say “stream of consciousness” and end up with “brainflow.” It seems to fit here.

Welcome to the ramblings of my mind. (For now, these ones revolve mostly around films.)


Saturday, July 9th, 2011 3:15 pm—Film

Beginners (USA 2011, Comedy/Drama), Writer/Director: Mike Mills

I really liked this bittersweet piece about love and its many flavours.

A near-middle aged cartoonist named Oliver (Ewan McGregor) has never been able to make a relationship work. Actually, to be more on point, he doesn’t really believe they can work, so he does everything he can to make sure they won’t. That’s his estimation, anyway. He attributes it to his parents’ lack of intimacy throughout their 44-year marriage. But when his newly widowed father Hal (Christopher Plummer) reveals the truth—that he’s gay—it sheds a new light on Oliver’s views about love.

Beginners is told through flashbacks to Hal’s last years, as he finally falls in love and enjoys life as he was meant to, but also falls prey to cancer; through present-day moments as Oliver tries to make sense of a rare and strange connection he has to French film actress Anna (Mélanie Laurent); and through funny little quirks and devices, such as a “talking” dog who communicates via subtitles, and sketches and scribbles drawn by Oliver to illustrate some of the film’s musings (like The History of Sadness, which includes the first gay man, who was diagnosed as mentally ill, and the first couple to get married for the wrong reasons).

The film drew me in with its outstanding cast. McGregor is an all-time favourite of mine, an actor with great depth, charm, versatility and humour. He’s awesome. Plummer is as dapper and nuanced as ever. I love seeing him so strong at 81; I hope he lasts forever. Laurent is extraordinary. I’ve been eager to see her again since being blown away by her performance in Inglourious Basterds, and she doesn’t disappoint.

But Beginners is more than just a terrific ensemble piece. Writer/director Mike Mills mixes and matches styles, moving from fast-paced photomontages to more standard fare, and incorporating a “talking” dog and cartoon strips, all the while jumping back and forth in time. It would have been easy to overwhelm or annoy the audience with a recipe like that, but Mills strikes a good balance and creates something that is at once funny, sad, odd, sincere and resonant.

Hal’s storyline is made all the more effective because it’s partially based on Mills’ own father. References to the late gay politician Harvey Milk and Allan Ginsberg’s poem Howl aren’t cloying; they’re spot on and entirely relevant. That was the world Hal existed in, where openly homosexual men were shot and shunned. If he wanted a career and a house and a family, he had to be straight.

Beginners gives most of its attention to Oliver and Anna, which is fine because the pair has a very special chemistry. But Oliver reveals some interesting truths—about his world, Hal’s world and our world—in his quest to make love work and to truly be himself in a relationship. The film is sweetly and touchingly summed up with a quote from The Velveteen Rabbit:

“It doesn’t happen all at once… You become. It takes a long time. That’s why it doesn’t happen often to people who break easily, or have sharp edges, or who have to be carefully kept. Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in the joints and very shabby. But these things don’t matter at all, because once you are Real you can’t be ugly, except to people who don’t understand.”

A wise friend once said to me, “Everyone wants a framework in which they can love and be loved.” Here’s to finding that framework, no matter what its shape.

[For the next time you’re in a renting mood, here are a few other films that feature homosexuality and are well worth a viewing: Bad Education, Shortbus, Milk, The Kids Are All Right and Howl, which I never reviewed but should have… a stunning piece of art.]

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To DB and new beginnings.

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