Friday, July 29, 2011


Is "For Real" "The Opposite of Free?"

Nobody "knows" anything.  We stumble through life, individually, doing the best we can or will. Millions have preceded us.  Millions (hopefully) will follow us, but we're all blazing a trail, learning as we go.  We are all Beginners, and only cable news pundits and politicians act like they have the answers.  Liars.

The life of Oliver (Ewan McGregor, lightly scruffy) is much like that of director Mike Mills*—graphic designer, cartoonist, sweetly depressed, mother dead, father (Christopher Plummer) comes out of the closet afterwards at the age of 75, and remains gay in both senses of the term, until his death of cancer a few years later.  It takes awhile for Oliver to process—the movie takes place mostly in flashback so the movie does make him live a bit in the past.  And self-analysis is very much a priority for him, perhaps too much.  He can inventory what things were like at the time of all the events of his life.  Take him to a costume party, naturally, he goes as Freud.  Walk into his home, you get the Grand Tour...even the Jack Russell terrier, Arthur, that he inherits from his Dad gets one.  It's all part of the dialog he has with the dog (who looks at him and thinks—via sub-titles—"I only have a vocabulary of 150 words.  I can't talk."), and becomes a constantly needy companion.  He now looks at his present through a prism of the past, but, as with driving a car, you can't go forward very well if you're only looking through the rear-view mirror.

At that previously mentioned costume party (Freud, remember...with dog in tow), he meets Anna, played by dark-eyed blond Mélanie Laurent (who also can't talk—laryngitis). meets her cute, and they develop a relationship that's friendly, warm...and quiet.  But, his melancholy keeps getting in the way, and they go through stages of happy/sad/happy/sad, all of which is confusing to the dog (who keeps asking "Are we married yet?")

It's nice.  It's sweet.  It's puzzling.  Beginners is about growing up and learning, and taking chances despite all that.  It's about coming out of grief and the shadow of your parents (and your own origins) and moving forward.  Personally, I found myself identifying with the dog.  Beginners is a fine little wallow, but I really wanted to go for a walk.

Beginners is a Rental.

* Director of Thumbsucker, married partner of Miranda July, whose film Me and You and Everyone We Know some hail as a masterpiece and I find frustratingly precious, although I'm looking forward to seeing her new one.

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