Beginners | Screen | Pittsburgh | Pittsburgh City Paper


The joyous rebirth of a man in his 70s forms the heart of Beginners, a quirky dramedy from writer-director Mike Mills

Never too late: Christopher Plummer and Ewan MacGregor

After his wife dies, Hal (Christopher Plummer) announces that he's gay. In short order, he's rainbow-marching, squealing during movie night and taking a much-younger boyfriend. He's also diagnosed with terminal cancer.

Struggling on the periphery is his grown son Oliver (Ewan MacGregor), who is depressed about his life and grief-stricken over the death of his father, whom he cared for at the end. The non-linear film begins after Hal's death, and jumps around in time, including scenes from Oliver's childhood. Beginners also unspools a potentially life-changing romance for Oliver, who meets a free-spirited but fragile actress (Melanie Laurent). 

Mills grants Oliver his own emotional quest, in order to draw parallels with his father's forays. But a stronger, more interesting film would have focused less on yet another tragic-comedy of two lost souls finding one another (an indie-film trope) and delved deeper into Hal's relationships. There's the oddly fitting shoe of his long-term marriage (an uneasy bargain with a wife who knew of his homosexuality); his relationship with Oliver, formerly awkward and now intimate; and his late-in-life romance with a boyfriend who is not wholly ideal. (Should you wait your whole life for a dreamt-of lion, Hal asks Oliver, when there's an available giraffe?)

Ultimately, Beginners proves quite heartwarming, despite its bitter gracenotes. It surely owes its sweet affirmation to Plummer's effervescent portrayal of a man giddy with life, even while facing death. Starts Fri., July 8. Manor

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