‘Beginners’ too cute for its own good

  • By Robert Horton Herald Movie Critic
  • Friday, June 10, 2011 12:01am
  • Life

A talking dog in a movie is not necessarily a warning sign, but I got wary when the dog in “Beginners” began speaking through on-screen subtitles. Placing one whimsical affectation on top of another could be a sign of a cuteness overload.

And, yes, “Beginners” might just be a too adorable for

its own good. With its tastefully designed portrait of a man working his way through grief, the film seems like a cousin to “A Single Man,” but it takes a lighter approach.

The man here is Oliver, played by Ewan McGregor. His father has died before the film begins, but flashbacks give us plenty of looks at the old man.

He’s Hal (Christopher Plummer), who came waaaay out of the closet after Oliver’s mother died. Hal was already a septuagenarian then, but managed to colorfully express his gay self in the few years he had before he died of cancer.

As Oliver sorts through both the loss of his father and the readjustment to Hal’s gay identity (just what did that make his parents’ marriage, then?), he also takes on a dog (see above) and an interesting new girlfriend.

The movie’s most delightful sequence involves the brief courtship of Oliver and Anna (Melanie Laurent), who meet at a party. She has laryngitis, so she can’t actually speak to Oliver, but writes notes to him as they spend a long night together.

It’s hard to say why there are any problems between these two lovely young people, except that writer-director Mike Mills (“Thumbsucker”) needed something to create conflict as he charted his way through the middle of the movie.

That’s one of the reasons this movie’s charm wears thin after a while. It’s all so smart and handsome and well-ordered, I began wanting something rude to happen. But even that would come off as adorable.

McGregor keeps proving his talents as a leading man, and he carries this one easily. I’m still not sure how Oliver supports his lifestyle, given that his job as a cartoonist and graphic artist would appear to be a limited-income kind of thing, but I guess we’re not supposed to worry about that and just enjoy how fabulous everything looks.

Plummer is jovial as an elderly man unleashed (Oscar nomination alert, ya’ll), and French actress Melanie Laurent (she was the female lead in “Inglourious Basterds”) is exactly as irresistible as she’s meant to be. Goran Vinjic, as Hal’s flighty lover, is freewheeling to the point of weirdness.

I appreciated the movie’s attempt to deal with heavy subjects without sacrificing a certain lightness. I even appreciated the talking dog. But when lightness turned into glibness, the movie and the dog lost me.

“Beginners”

Ewan McGregor plays a man grappling not only with his father’s death, but also with Dad’s coming out of the closet as a septuagenarian. Nice cast (Christopher Plummer and Melanie Laurent are winning here), but Mike Mills’ film feels a little too glib for its own good.

Rated: R for language, subject matter

Showing: Harvard Exit

Talk to us

More in Life

The all-new Kia Sportage X-Pro model comes standard with all-terrain tires and 17-inch matte black off-road wheels. (Kia)
2023 Kia Sportage has two new models aimed at the outdoorsy

The X-Pro and X-Pro Prestige have all-terrain tires, all-wheel drive, and all kinds of ground clearance.

Women came from all over the Pacific Northwest to “glamp” and raise money to send girls to Girl Scout Camp from Sept. 16-18. The next opportunity to glamp at Camp River Ranch will be Sept. 8-10, 2023. (Jennifer Bardsley)
Women’s glamping retreat raises money to send local girls to camp

I’ve been the camper, the counselor, the Girl Scout leader and the mom. Now, I was the glamper.

People stroll along Edinburgh’s Royal Mile, one of Europe’s most interesting historic walks, as Edinburgh Castle looms in the distance. (Rick Steves' Europe)
Edinburgh, the cultural heart of Scotland, packs a cultural punch

Once a medieval powerhouse, it is today one of Europe’s most lively and festive cities.

Dan Neumeyer peers out the window of his Hummingbird Yurt. (David Welton)
Otherworldly structures constructed on Whidbey Island

The small buildings — yurts, with a Western twist — were built by Earth dweller Dan Neumeyer.

All ears: Mukilteo couple provides surgery for kids born without ears

Dr. Prabhat and Trish Bhama are part of a HUGS volunteer team providing treatment for microtia in Guatemala.

Planting containers in the shoulder season

September and October can be tricky times of the year when it… Continue reading

MyMyToyStore.com owner Tom Harrison at his brick and mortar storefront on Tuesday, Sept. 6, 2022 in Everett, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
Near-death experience planted seeds for downtown Everett toy store

Former attorney Tom Harrison survived 9/11. It caused him to ask what’s important in life. Today, he runs MyMyToyStore.

2021 Dodge Ram 1500 TRX (Dodge)
2021 Dodge Ram 1500 TRX

The latest salvo is the 2021 Ram 1500 TRX Crew Cab 4x4 pickup.

Mazda CX-30 Crossover (Mazda)
2021 Mazda CX-30 Premium Plus

The crossover seats five adults and delivers the freedom to match active lifestyles.

2022 Kia Sportage Hybride SX Prestige

The 2022 Kia Sportage is marketed as the “ultimate urban SUV.”

Presented by the Edmonds Driftwood Players, Agatha Christie’s “The Mousetrap” — a murder-mystery that is the world’s longest-running play — will run through Oct. 2 at Wade James Theatre in Edmonds. (Photo courtesy Dale Sutton)
Music, theater and more: What’s happening in Snohomish County

MUSIC Mill Creek Summer Concert Series: The music concludes with Big Dog… Continue reading

2022 BMW X3 M40i (BMW)
2022 BMW X3 M40i

BMW is probably the best at naming cars with letters and numbers.