Friday, June 22, 2012

At the Movies: "Beginners"

Mike Mills, 2011.

Ebert: Three and a half Stars
Rotten Tomatoes: 84% Fresh

Beginners is a quiet, quirky movie about a man trying to come to terms with the last years of his father’s life. After the protagonist’s mother dies, and after almost 50 years of marriage, his father takes a much younger boyfriend and becomes a very active member of the local gay community. This understandably leads the son to question much of what has come before, even as he draws closer to his suddenly more approachable father. Meanwhile, he (the son) has met a highly attractive young woman who shares his ineptness at romantic relationships, and they struggle to find some kind of vocabulary with which they can find out if they are even suitable for each other.

Beginners is set, oddly, seven years back in time, which gives it a contemporary feel but underscores its lack of resolution or finality; the characters have issues, as we say, and will have to continue working on them. There is one roughly linear story arc, but much of the screen time is spent in non-linear flashback, sometimes with events colored or distorted by memory. Occasionally the movie breaks for more direct collage, with a voiceover over vintage images chosen to represent the feel, the look, or the perils of an era, or a period in the characters’ lives. Intensely experiential and infused with a documentarian sensibility, it feels (as I remarked to Mrs.5000) like “This American Life: The Movie.” Oh, and there’s a talking dog.

Highly recommended for grownup types who don’t mind feeling wistful and who are interested in the nature of human emotional life and the always-problematic realm of family dynamics.


Nichim said...

This already sounds like the kind of movie I would definitely not volunteer to watch (although I might get something out of it if I were forced by circumstance to consume it) but I draw the line at talking dogs. Except in Pynchon's Mason and Dixon, but I don't think they're likely to make a movie version of that. Pynchon is often my exception that proves the rule (not that that cliche even makes sense).

Michael5000 said...

The dog talks in subtitles rather than voice-over, which helps. And it's a very cute dog. And articulate! And, you know, "symbolic."

I, too, wouldn't have volunteered for it -- it was a Mrs.5000 pick -- but I did quite enjoy it once embarked.