I was strangely incensed when I read this short description of Beginners in The New Yorker. The film is an “excruciatingly faux-naïve and sentimental drama of mommy-and-daddy worship,” writes movie-listings editor Richard Brody. Don't listen to him! Because the film is actually an open-hearted, playful, optimistic, entertaining delight – and, lucky viewers, it screens this Saturday at 9.30pm on SBS One.
[ Full schedule: SBS ONE: Sandy George Presents... ]
Here are some more reasons why it is an adorable must-see: the joyfulness implicit in Canadian actor Christopher Plummer's performance as an elderly man coming out (and how refreshing that it was this role that earned him his first Oscar); the presence of Ewan McGregor; the complexity implicit in the character of Anna (Mélanie Laurent); and the way the fox terrier is subtitled saying “While I understand up to 150 words, I don't talk” after McGregor's Oliver tells his father's dog he'd like to be able to have conversations with him.
I loved Beginners when I first saw it at the closing night of the Sydney Film Festival in 2011 and my admiration only grew with repeated viewings and research. Here is, for example, what writer/director Mike Mills says about the inspiration behind the film: “Beginners started when my father came out of the closet. He was 75 years old, and had been married to my mother for 45 years. His hunger to completely change his life was confusing, painful, very funny, and deeply inspiring. Change, honesty, and openness can happen when it seems least likely. Even as he passed away five years later to cancer he was energised, reaching out; he wasn't in any way finished.”
What a beautiful description of someone coming to the end of his life. In the featurette here, Mills says that his father took risks at a time of his life when people aren't supposed to take risks, and that the behaviour was contagious and he wanted to share it. (As an aside, how quaint that Mills wears a suit on set!) It is difficult not to be positively swayed by learning of Mills' intent.
I strongly believe that everyone is entitled to an opinion on what's up on screen and also that how a film came to be made shouldn't influence audiences (and critics). In other words, I have no excuse for continuing to be infuriated by Brody's uncharitable take on the film. But I am. So, I guess it's my word against Mr Brody's.