New on DVD, Amazon Instant Watch and Netflix this week is the summer indie film “Beginners.” The comedy-drama focuses on the story of Oliver (Ewan McGregor). Autobiographical in nature, director and writer Michael Mills tells the story of a young man who must experience many new beginnings: the understanding and acceptance of Hal (Christopher Plummer), his father, announcing his homosexuality (at the ripe old age of 75), his father’s diagnosis and ultimate death due to terminal cancer, and the beginning of a new love with Anna (Melanie Laurant). While Anna represents the new and the future, Oliver must first struggle with the present and past focusing his life and all the things he knew to be true.
The film oscillates between past and present in a series of interconnected flashbacks. The audience cannot help but root for Oliver who seems hopelessly and utterly lost. Armed with nothing besides his best friend, his jack-russel terrier, Arthur, whom he inherited from his father, and his depressingly honest and simplistic cartoons, Oliver tries to get a grasp around the whirlwind of what his life has become. Christopher Plummer’s performance as Hal is touching and heartbreaking. Humorous scenes involve heartfelt conversations between Oliver and Arthur and Hal’s first experience with the dance/club scene with his younger boyfriend. The fun and humorous moments are quiet but poignant, and if you look away, you just might miss the gems of the film.
Oliver can only question throughout the film why his father would spend his entire life married to a woman when he knew all along he was gay. Hal can only answer sadly that at the time his wife put away her Jewish star Hal put away his rainbow flag. Anna and Oliver have a similar sort of relationship that waiver between sadness and extreme optimism, with memorable conversations.
While the cast is small and the budget is minimal, “Beginners” holds the impact of a new generation of independent film making and openness about homosexuality in the United States. No longer are the stories about the secret lives of marginalized and ostracized individuals, but instead the embracing and rejection of the social constructions that reject and dehumanize these individuals. Hal lives what little is left of his life not as a theoretical gay but someone who does something about it.
“Beginners” was created for the small budget of $3.2 million dollars and produced an approximate $10 million dollar budget at the box office. The film was distributed by Focus Features and focuses on Mike Mill’s own father, who at age 75 came out as gay. This was Christopher Plummer’s first time acting as a gay character. The film tied for best feature at the 2011 Gotham Awards with “Tree of Life.”