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Ewan McGregor
Mélanie Laurent
Christopher Plummer
Goran Visnjic.
Mike Mills.
Mike Mills.
Running Time
104 minutes

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Gay Dad the indie film, not the indie band

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American graphic artist Oliver (McGregor) is grieving for his father Hal (Plummer) when he embarks on a romance with French actress Anna (Laurent). He remembers the recent past when Hal revealed that he was gay, and that he was dying of cancer.

Mike Mills is one of those achingly hip US artist-directors who’s done pop promos (Air), album covers (Beastie Boys) and edgy movies (Thumbsucker). He’s also married to toast-of-the-indie-scene Miranda July (Me And You And Everyone We Know). So it’s no surprise that this semi-autobiographical drama has a quirky visual flair and an offbeat sense of humour.

Ewan McGregor plays Oliver, a graphic artist who introduces his late parents through a fast-paced snapshot montage. His Jewish mother married his father knowing his sexuality but the news came as a bombshell to the adult Oliver — as did the news that Hal (Christopher Plummer) has terminal cancer. The film opens after Hal’s death, but flashbacks show Oliver visiting his father at home and in hospital. These scenes are among the film’s best: Plummer aces it as the kindly, stubborn, outspoken Hal and Goran Visnjic plays brilliantly against type as his younger lover. There’s plenty of humour as Hal embraces his gay lifestyle under the gaze of his surprised son.

But this fails to dig deep into Oliver’s feelings about his father’s sexuality: it’s hard to believe he’d accept such a radical change in his lifestyle without busting a gut. Oliver’s broad mind is laudable but you suspect Mills may be editing his own past — or at least, holding something back. McGregor, meanwhile, does a nice job of being likable and witty but doesn’t bring extra depth to the role.

Sparking up the contemporary scenes is Inglourious Basterds’ Mélanie Laurent as Anna, whom Oliver meets at a party. But her kooky-pretty French actress routine begins to feel like a bit of an archetype. A little too long is spent on this on-off romance when it might have been better devoted to a subject with real emotional pay-off: Hal’s gradual demise. Sure, it’s not sexy, but the hospital scenes are well observed and full of affection for a character determined to live life to the full to the end.

To call Beginners self-indulgent would be unkind — it’s often entertaining. There’s even a cute dog. But it’s a very personal film that doesn’t have a clear aim for the audience to root for, be it romantic or familial. Still, it’s a pleasant watch given that every scene is well made, well performed and believable.

With good performances and characters, Beginners is an enjoyable, amusing and occasionally poignant watch. Indie film fans will want to catch it, but it falls short of being a must-see.

Reviewed by Anna Smith

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Average user rating for Beginners
Empire Star Rating

Some intense navel gazing

Cute almost to the point of irritation, this semi-autobiographical film is filled with nice characters unnecessarily agonising over things that shouldn’t bother them. Serenely presiding over them all is Plummer as the 75-year-old widower who comes out to his son after the death of his wife. He’s the only well-adjusted one among them. McGregor is the bewildered son who is about to muck up his movie-perfect romance with the adorable Laurent because of his own neuroses. Playing fast and... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by RJNeb2 at 11:19, 11 August 2014 | Report This Post

Brilliant performances, often quaint storyline (that could have been developed more to pick up the often pace), but this film does bring joy and happiness in the sadder of times, with a few laughs and cries. Overall, I personally think this is a little underrated. ... More

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Posted by danfacey711 at 12:14, 24 June 2012 | Report This Post


Okay, slow, boring. Overrated ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by lynnshep at 23:04, 23 February 2012 | Report This Post


Okay, slow, boring. Overrated ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by lynnshep at 23:04, 23 February 2012 | Report This Post

Good, if only for the acting. Unique story that could have been better developed. ... More

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Posted by Turd Ferguson at 14:47, 06 February 2012 | Report This Post

Beginners: Review

Beginners is a terrible film. My problems with the film is its a bit boring, they use alot of the same scenes over and over, it felt like the director didnt know what to put in the scene so he decided to put in that scene and the characters werent to interesting to follow. The only good parts in the film were that some scenes were funny. I would only recommend not to see this film. ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by Edward9630 at 00:48, 17 August 2011 | Report This Post

RE: Beginners

I liked this a lot,it covers a range of emotions.Ewan is decent here,though the gay issue is a bit twee,almost Philladelphia-like. Reminded me a bit of Gondreys Sience of Sleep,quite quirkey in parts.Hard to sum up as an overall experience,its like a very dry wine,tasty,but still leaves you thirsty. That said,solid 4 stars for me. ... More

Posted by thetruth at 14:01, 03 August 2011 | Report This Post


A down to earth indie drama with a refreshing story structure. I went into this one knowing literally nothing about it, other than the fact that it starred Ewan McGregor. I came out thoroughly satisfied. Modest performances all round, plenty of laughs, a few cry's, and a cute dog. As the verdict says, maybe not a MUST-see, but it's definitely one I'd recommend. ... More

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Posted by Whistler at 00:32, 24 July 2011 | Report This Post

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