Thursday, January 5, 2012
"Quirky" is an accusation that goes thrown around a lot these days. It usually goes hand-in-hand with "twee" or "precious" when someone wants to take down a film too in love with its own cleverness to drop the ironic detachment and commit to the material. I've never relied on these terms as criticisms since they can be used to describe films both good and bad. Superficially, Mike Mills' Beginners has an abundance of fanciful touches that make it sound like it belongs on the bad end of the spectrum. There is a dog who communicates with imagined subtitles, the story is interrupted for the narrator to make statements of grand simplicity about life accompanied by vintage Polaroids. The lead character is even a sad sack cartoonist, an occupation that reeks of pretentious navel-gazing. Yet Beginners never gets carried away by these conceits, using them instead to get a fresh angle on the very real joys and pains of its characters. Even the most whimsical moments in Mills' film are held down by a weight of sadness.
The story jumps back and forth in the life of Oliver (Ewan McGregor) from the present where he is taking shaky baby steps towards love with the an almost-too-lovely French girl (Melanie Laurent, heartbreakingly beautiful) to the recent past when he dealt with the late-in-life coming out and subsequent death of his father (a career-best Christopher Plummer) Through it all Mills pulls back to take the wide view. Happiness in this movie is a fragile thing that one needs courage to get and then to hold on to. Beginners is one of the most moving cinematic experiences of 2011, quirkiness and all.
Previously on the Countdown
09. Miss Bala
--- The Runners Up