Friday, November 18, 2011

Beginners' Luck

Beginners is a sweet, super-precious, sometimes annoying but also oddly satisfying movie by Mike Mills, a graphic designer whose 75-year-old father came out of the closet a few years before he passed away.  The movie's plot is basically that:  a graphic designer's 75-year-old father comes out of the closet and a few years later passes away.  During and after all this, the sad and lonely graphic designer falls in love with a sad and lonely actress who luxuriates in hotel rooms and makes funny faces and loves love but also has a suicidal father who keeps trying to call her so she is afraid of intimacy, etc.  In fact both the actress and the graphic designer, even though thoughtfully portrayed by Melanie Laurent and Ewen McGregor, never really seem to come to fruition as the center of the movie's concerns.  It's the periphery that takes over, and that periphery is astutely and hammily brought into the foreground by Christopher Plummer as the gay old dad.  He is both charming and ridiculous, stubborn and free-wheeling, a precise depiction of something I don't think I've ever seen in a movie before:  an elderly homosexual who is conveyed to us without a lot of frills or apologies or gimmicks.  There are no cheap laughs.  He is so happy to be gay it is both funny and true, a joke but not.  I think we owe this beautiful portrait not just to Plummer's incredibly delicate yet hilariously bold performance, but to Mills, who seems to have made this movie as a love letter to his dead dad.  This could have been horribly sentimental (and it kind of is sometimes), but there's this magical atmosphere in Beginners that seems to permeate almost every scene, like the afterglow of a memory that won't let itself be erased or cheapened.  The loveliest image in the movie:  Plummer lying on the floor with his new boyfriend, smiling at the camera, overcome with joy.