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Review: Beginners

Mike Mill's Beginners follows Oliver, a young man who discovers his father, Hal (Christopher Plummer) is gay and that he also has terminal cancer. This story is told through a series of flashbacks, with the present focusing on Oliver beginning a new relationship with a French actress, Anna (Melanie Laurent)

Mill's presents us with an incredibly tender, realistic and heartfelt story and it comes as no surprise that this is based on his own personal experience. The concept of Beginners may seem somewhat simple but the film is actually far more layered and complex than first impressions would have us believe - acting as a commentary for changing society and the ongoing human experience. We see active comparisons on how gay life has changed from Hal's youth in the 1940s/50s to his old age in the 2000s, as well as focusing on love, life and family.  Mill's directing style is unconventional from it's use of archive photography, narration, period music (think Gene Austin & Hoagy Carmicheal), flashback structure and use of hand drawings. This mix of distinctive styles is very refreshing and a breath of fresh air from standard "Hollywood direction".

Beginners also boasts some outstanding performances. Ewan McGregor does incredibly well, really giving us an insight into the disarray of Oliver's love life and news of his father's sexuality and death. It's a reserved, yet competent performance, although at points when everything looks positive for Oliver he can still come across as slightly joyless and tiresome. Melanie Laurent is also somewhat entertaining but the role of Anna feels too cliched and unrealistic - the quirky girl, living alone trying to make it big... yawn.  Mary Page Keller, who plays Oliver's mother in flashback sequences is completely wonderful, and the relationship between the two really gives the film an indie feel. However, the best performance in Beginners comes from Christopher Plummer, who's utterly sublime.  He's completely convincing in the role and has some incredibly heart-wrenching and touching scenes, as well as some slightly more light and comic appearances. The character does feel slightly overshadowed by the romance between Oliver and Anna, which at times can become overbearing. Plummer missed out on an Oscar for The Last Station and hopefully he'll receive a deserved nomination for Beginners next year.

Beginners is an incredibly touching and heartfelt story, with an outstanding performance from Christopher Plummer and stylish direction from Mike Mills. At points, the romantic plot between Oliver and Anna does become tiresome but some light comic touches will keep you interested.

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