Beginners is a dark romantic comedy starring Ewan McGregor as Oliver, a single late 30-something who falls in love with the beguiling and beautiful Anna (Melanie Laurent) while he is still trying to piece his world back together following the recent death of his father (Christopher Plummer).
Non-linear and regularly dipping back into Oliver's childhood, Beginners initially feels like it might get lost in its own quirkiness. The razor-sharp editing, the dog who has his thoughts translated by subtitles, the kookiness of Anna and so on, all threaten a certain sense of style-over-substance. However, it soon becomes apparent that any level of quirkiness is tightly reigned in by an overwhelming sadness. The cloud of melancholy which hangs over the film perfectly counterbalances its quirkier aspects. For instance, there are laughs to be had at the fact that Oliver's father comes out of the closet at the age of 75 (his discovery of house music is especially lovely), yet the flip side of the coin is that he is being eaten from the inside out by cancer. Meanwhile, with Anna, Oliver has the most fun of his life, yet he struggles to commit to the relationship because he is haunted by memories of his parents' hollow marriage. Anna is perhaps the complete embodiment of the movie's tone. At first glance, she seems carefree and impulsive (think a sweeter Eva Green from The Dreamers), but is emotionally crippled by her suicidal father and her requirement - as an actress - to never settle in one place for any length of time.
So, what you have is an emotive tale which keeps the viewer on their toes and that is beautifully balanced, with themes that work on a number of levels. Too much zaniness, too many gags or too much sadness would have seen the film fail to connect but what is being presented here is something which is touching, funny, visually interesting, heartfelt and poignant in perfect measures.
Few romantic comedies manage to be as thought-provoking as this, as Beginners deals with life, death, love, repressed feelings, relationships and things left unsaid. You'll exit the cinema not knowing how to feel about life or what to do with yourself. Strap on a pair of roller-skates with the person you love and whizz down the main road shouting at the top of your lungs? Visit your parents and hug them? Sit in a darkened room with your favourite depressing love songs? Whatever, this sweet, amusing and very honest film will stay in your thoughts for some time after you leave the cinema and will make you question what is truly important in this very fragile world.
Review by Bobby Townsend.