“I’ve always wanted to have a phone call with somebody who doesn’t talk.” – Oliver
I figured I should suggest a more recent movie that hasn’t been released (well, at least not yet) through the Criterion Collection. 2010s Beginners is a film about loss, relationships, the meaning of love, and beginning anew. Told from the perspective of a reserved, thirty-eight year old named Oliver, the narrative shifts between three periods of the young-adult’s life; his childhood, when he found out his father was a homosexual and dying of cancer, and the present. Through voice-over we are told early on that Oliver’s mother, Georgia (Mary Page Keller), had passed away, his father came out of the closet, and only a few years later, passed away as well. Though this is obviously tragic exposition, the film maintains its optimistic sentimentality through imagery and playful, yet introspective, dialogue.
Oliver, played by the illustrious Ewan McGregor,works through the final days of his father’s life as a catalyst for his own. Obviously displeased with his own unhappiness, he views himself as a man that lets relationships dwindle from flame to ember, when a little effort on his part would’ve acted as the fuel. Inspired by his father, Hal (played by the even more illustrious Christopher Plummer), and his relationship with a middle-aged homosexual named Andy (Goran Visnjic), Oliver takes it on himself to see a relationship through. Enter Anna (Mélanie Laurent), a gorgeous french actress who steals his heart by playing a mute at mutual friend’s Halloween party. Another big player in the narrative is his father’s dog, Arthur, a Jack Russell Terrier, which he eventually becomes accountable for. I find Roger Ebert describes the dog’s role best, “It is a film in which only a dog named Arthur seems to hold everything in perspective.”
The film gets dangerously “cute” at times, skipping over the difficult process of finding true love (both Oliver and his father find their soul-mates almost instantly). That being said, the unrealistic speed at which it happens is, in my opinion, intentional on the director/writer’s part. Mike Mills is using Oliver as a proxy to tell his own story. Similar to the protagonist, Mills is also a graphic artist who struggled with his own father’s homosexuality and death. When I say struggled with homosexuality, I don’t mean he ever thought it was wrong, the movie makes that clear, he just had a difficult time coming to terms with his father spending his whole life married to his mother. Anyways, the director skips the “finding love process” because this isn’t a movie about that, it’s a movie about new beginnings, and the new beginning starts when he meets Anna, not when he’s searching for her.
There are things I enjoyed about this movie, its portrayal of Los Angeles, its use of Arthur as a human character, and Christopher Plummer’s performance. And there are things I dislike, Ewan McGregor trying to sound American, the unnecessary focus on Mill’s graphic art, and Oliver’s lack of struggle to change. All in all, it’s genuine and sincere.
P.S. I too hope to fall in love with a french actress as lovely as Anna some day. Fingers crossed.