Review: Beginners

A director who made their name making pop promos is not usually a good sign and, if they were quirky pop promos, doubly so. But Mick Mills is something different: his work for Air is exceptional and his video for their track All I Want always struck me as being a damn near perfect work of art.

This heartbreaking work of staggering genius seems poised between the literary world of Dave Eggers and Jona-than Safran Foer, and the movies of Sofia Coppola, Michel Gondry and Spike Jonze - with that mix of child-like simplicity and slick sophistication.

Set in the skateboarding communities of California, it is simultaneously a celebration of existence and an expres-sion of how completely empty and shallow every human pursuit is. Basically, it sums up the whole human experi-ence in less than five minutes.

What more could you ask of a piece of art?

I always hoped that maybe he might have a full-length feature in him which could replicate this feat but neither his debut Thumbsucker nor this comes close.

The premise suggests something that will be quirky and heartfelt. After the death of his mother, Oliver (Ewan McGregor) has to deal with his 75-year-old father (Christopher Plummer) announcing that he is gay.

He only has four more years to live because the film's mixed-up chronology lets us know early that he will die of cancer. Still time to find love with a man half his age (Goren Visjinic), while Oliver struggles to forge a relation-ship with a French actress (Laurent from Inglorious Basterds).

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It is supposed to be a drama that is odd, quirky and funny just like real life, but ends up being odd, quirky and funny in exactly the way life isn't. Oliver has a cute Jack Russell which he talks to, through subtitles. A potentially nice idea but, as Oliver is little more than a cute puppy dog who mopes about looking sad but never biting, it be-comes excessive.

There are lots of offbeat moments of invention that just come across as twee and, despite the considerable efforts of the cast, the whole film feels like an assiduously and tastefully mounted butterfly collection of human emotions, beautifully presented but there just for inspection.


Director: Mick Mills

With: Ewan McGregor, Christopher Plummer, Melanie Laurent, Goren Visjinic and Mary Page Keller.

Length: 105 mins