Impressions of … Beginners (Mike Mills)

enjoyed this film, didn’t have a problem with the talking to the dog, or the subtitling of the dog’s replies, which drew adverse comments when the film was released

a nice blend of the whimsical and the serious, it reminded me a little of Woody Allen (the Woody of that great period where the gag-writer and the serious dramatist co-existed): the flashback scenes with the mother, in particular, and the game of fake deaths she plays with her son; the romance has a touch of the Annie Hall as well – did ‘Anne’ (the girlfriend) go to the fancy-dress party as ‘Annie Hall’ or was that look ‘coincidental’? (Loved the Sigmund Freud idea. Might steal that. It looked like one hell of party.)

must be one of Ewan McGregor’s best performances; for me, he excels at the smug yet charismatic (Shallow Grave), but here sad and perplexed seems to fit ery well, there’s chemistry with Melanie Laurent too – they seem to be having fun, which considerably adds to the charm


it was an interesting (good) idea to intercut the two storylines – the swan song of his out-of-the-closet father and the post-bereavement romance, the film was about a guy trying to puzzle out why he fails at relationships as he regards his dying father, an equivocal role model, whose marriage was a joyless sham, but whose creation of a new life at the age of 75 was sort of inspirational so it is, effectively, worked out in flashback

great cartoon of the ‘past’ as a big rock crushing the ‘present’, actually, it was a pleasure being in the ‘company’ of this sad and witty graphic designer, his wistful social history told through old photos was cool, Mike Mills comes from the world of graphic design (I think), indeed, now I recall the story of the father is essentially autobiographical

the film dragged towards the end, the story didn’t have any external conflict and a lot of internal conflict was pretty vague (vaguely pretty), screenwriter Mike Mills didn’t provide director Mike Mills with the material with which to lift the pace (maybe director Mike Mills didn’t let him), one of the storylines was, for obvious reasons, without suspense, while the romance was a bit droopy, not to mention coy (it required the discovery of a copy of ‘The Joy of Sex’ to get some sauce into their love life)(was this meant to tell us it was real love?), and while it may be true and realistic for lovers to quietly take themselves off to avoid confrontation, that behaviour presents a challenge for the dramatist (and sometimes the filmmaker) – I get the feeling Mike Mills is a non-confrontational guy – as a consequence, there was insufficient ‘rising action’ as they call it, I suppose there was a gesture towards crisis and decision when Oliver (Ewan McGregor) gets off his arse and flies to see his estranged lover in New York – to achieve this he has to detach himself from his father’s dog – but the sequence was too short and too late (I think it was a question of balance: there was probably too much cute, tentative ‘getting to know you’ stuff)

I was surprised the film came in at under 100mins, it felt longer, but for the most part while it was around it was delightful and quite touching


2 responses to “Impressions of … Beginners (Mike Mills)

  1. Other impressions of…

    How did Hal come to have the dog…

    What of the relationship with Andy… ambivalent but not, I think, because Oliver has a problem with him being gay (seems a little fatuous of Andy to suggest this (repeatedly, almost Ali G)… unless what he means is that non-monogamy is an integral part of being gay?)

    Why when he makes so much of living now as he truly is does Hal lie to his friends about his illness? Isn’t this as much fakery as his life with Oliver’s mother? Is there something banal about dying of something that *isn’t* HIV when you have nailed your rainbow colours to the mast???? Is there something hollow, superficial and brittle in his new life for all the evident warmth?

    I agree there is too much time spent on the delights of the getting to know you dance so that the moving in, moving out, chase to New York, resolution is unconvincingly concertina-ed.

    The stills and cartoons really lifted the film into something original. A lovely gentle piece where we are allowed to experience the frustration of witnessing Oliver’s self-sabotaging ways with sympathy. Sad isn’t Bad.

  2. Why does Hal lie? I assumed it was because he didn’t want to be treated as a dying man; later he started to deny it himself.

    Andy was a perplexing character. I didn’t understand him. Nor did Oliver, clearly. I wonder if Mike Mills had the same trouble in real life with his father’s lover.

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