Originally published at X-Media Online
My attendance of Campus Cinema began on Tuesday with Beginners, a film that begins with Ewan McGregor’s Oliver beginning to get over the death of his father. He really is still in the early stages of progressing through his grief though, as he spends much of the film in a melancholic mess. The hardships of ordinary bereavement are complicated by the fact that his beloved Dad finally came out of the closet in his final years, all guns blazing, following the death of Oliver’s mother from cancer. This is a story rich in uncertain identities and confusion, as well as poignant bonding and mutual understanding.
The most surprising thing about Beginners is how funny it is. Perhaps it shouldn’t be such a shock, given that it’s essentially an unconventional rom com, but the laughs really do flow consistently at points. You’re never quite sure where the gags will jump out at you from. It could be McGregor’s dodgy impression of Sigmund Freud at a party; it could be particularly black humour in a deeply serious situation or simply the chemistry between accomplished actors delivering witty dialogue. The likes of Christopher Plummer, McGregor and Melanie Laurent from Inglorious Basterds make for a far from shabby cast.
There’s also some excellent visual humour that regularly appears in scenes out of the blue. Oliver’s father had a dog, Arthur, who is incredibly attached to members of the family, so that he wails and whines unbearably when parted from someone he trusts. Suitably cute and quirky subtitles to match his cuddly appearance flash up on screen occasionally to express his thoughts. There are also quite a few montages from Oliver’s childhood to set the scene and provide background information to characters and relationships.
I am not a fan of voiceover in film because it is usually executed woefully. However in Beginners McGregor’s reflective and self aware musings mostly come across as meaningful, adding depth to the story, especially when coupled with very distinctive still images. Oliver feels like the at once familiar and mysterious first person narrator to a novel we are watching, rather than the main character in a romantic film.
The downsides of this are that Beginners will be far too quirky for some to stomach. It wears its sentiments without shame, jumping willingly into boxes marked “indie” and “offbeat. It toys with ideas of minimalist storytelling, not just with slideshows of random pictures but with a wordless meeting between Oliver and his love interest. The recurring montage and voiceover sections give the time hopping narrative structure and symmetry but also a couple of false endings better than the one director Mark Mills eventually delivers.
Despite fizzling out somewhat Beginners features a touching, believable love story and avoids being overshadowed by the issue of an old man’s homosexuality at its heart. It asks smart questions in a unique and yes, quirky, way. Bravo Campus Cinema, even if the ads did promote Plymouth University!
My Rating: 4 stars out of 5