Dave White
Beginners Review

Dave's Rating:

4.0

Tissues, please.

Who's In It: Ewan McGregor, Christopher Plummer, Melanie Laurent, Goran Visnjic, Kai Lennox, Mary Page Keller

The Basics: A thirtysomething graphic designer learns, after the death of his mother, that his 75-year-old father is finally coming out as gay and has also been diagnosed with terminal lung cancer. Dad, for his part, is pretty serene about everything, finally happy to be who he is and not especially frightened of dying. Son, on the other hand, must not only come to terms with his father's impending passing but also, post-death, rearrange everything he knew about his parents' marriage, how he was raised and why his own relationships with women never seem to work. It's way less Lifetime movie than it sounds, promise.

What's The Deal: Here's a rarity, a quirky American indie film that isn't unusual for its own sake but because these now-fictionalized events actually happened in one form or another (except for the part where the cute little Jack Russell terrier speaks telepathically via subtitles, obviously). It's writer-director Mike Mills's own story and, if you're aware of his work outside of filmmaking, of his success as a graphic designer and artist, his collaborations with people like Miranda July (they're married, by the way), then you'll get just how personal and real everything on screen is. And even if you walk in knowing nothing about him, it's clear that nothing here is an affectation, just a moving, directly and quietly communicated story of family love filtered through his own slightly strange sensibility. Take your parents to see it.

Ewan McGregor Miserablism Index: In the red zone. At one point Melanie Laurent, as McGregor's love interest, tells him with a drawing that she sees his grief in his eyes. But if you're watching him closely you don't need that pointed out to you. He low keys his performance from start to finish, not saying all that much but telling everything with the same lost, sad expression. It actually becomes something of a perfectly balanced funny/mournful running gag as his character fails to impress a (real-life) band called The Sads with album cover art detailing an extensive "History of Sadness."

They're Going To Have To Start Giving Animal Academy Awards Or Something: Because the dog here gives almost as winning a performance as the elephant in Water for Elephants. It doesn't matter how meta the movie gets when McGregor tells the dog that he was bred to be adorable and used in movies, the scruffy mutt still shines just by staring directly into the camera.

Admitting My Own Bias: In 10 years I may watch this again and find it less compelling. But right now it hits the spot because I'm a middle-aged guy dealing with my own ailing, elderly parent. And that's what movies are for sometimes, to move you as you deal with the same stuff in your own life as the characters on screen. It can't all be escapism.

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