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Beginners’ is surprisingly moving and has a subtitled Jack Russell terrier

Beginners is a much better display of Ewan McGregor’s talent than any of the Star Wars movies, but he does look good with a ponytail.

The Details

Four stars
Ewan McGregor, Christopher Plummer, Mélanie Laurent
Directed by Mike Mills
Rated R
Opens Friday
Beyond the Weekly
Official Movie Site
IMDb: Beginners
Rotten Tomatoes: Beginners

Beginners begins with a premise ripe with dramatic possibilities: What if your father suddenly came out of the closet at age 75, immediately following your mother’s death? That really happened to writer-director Mike Mills (Thumbsucker), who’s cast Christopher Plummer as the dad and Ewan McGregor as, essentially, the filmmaker himself. Yet the two have surprisingly few scenes together, and the movie as a whole isn’t remotely the thorny but tender two-hander that convention would dictate. Instead, Mills has essentially made a freewheeling personal-essay film craftily disguised as a narrative, flitting back and forth in time with reckless abandon to examine the ways in which our personality and behavior is subtly warped by the decisions made by our parents, who were themselves prisoners of their environment.

That may sound fairly heavy, but Mills expertly balances the somberness with understated whimsy, successfully walking a thin tightrope between maudlin and twee. You wouldn’t think he could get away with some of this stuff—not only does McGregor’s character meet impossibly cute with a new girlfriend (Mélanie Laurent of Inglourious Basterds), who initially can’t speak due to laryngitis, but he also has subtitled conversations with his late father’s Jack Russell terrier. Even the film’s goofiest digressions are tinged with melancholy, however, and its fluid notion of time, memory and the weight of history proves to be deeply moving. Just not in the way you might have anticipated.


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  • A balance of strong humor with serious danger and uncertainty with a cast full of great actors.

  • Remarkably, the film gradually neutralizes its apparent protagonist, adding to a harrowing experience.

  • Ken Jeong has had scene-stealing roles as oddball characters, but a little of his manic energy goes a long way.

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