Wednesday, July 6, 2011
Beginners (Mike Mills, 2011) -- B
Beginners is almost a great film. In spots, it feels like one, playfully expressing self-pity, existential woes, and relationship angst without losing its precision and verve - director Mike Mills is, at least, specific in his vision. Bittersweet throughout, the death of Oliver's (Ewan McGregor) father (Christopher Plummer) conjures up Gondry-esque tampering with temporality and montage, implicitly suggesting the transient nature of life, distinguishable only through the zeitgeist's cultural signposts. Nevertheless, an unfortunate degree of cutesy quirk permeates just enough to soil otherwise magnificent work, such as a Oliver's dog, who speaks through subtitles nearly a dozen times throughout the film. Too pandering. Moreover, the film's consistent insistence upon anarchy and "living by one's own rules" plays more as hollow hipsterism than stone-cold conviction, especially since Mills sentimentalizes these assertions, rather than putting them to the test. At its worst, Beginners resembles cinematic migraine Running with Scissors - bourgeois self-hatred played as virtue. Yet, at its best, Mills transcends these trappings and approaches the art of Wes Anderson or Michel Gondry - but he never quite gets there, mainly because his aesthetic sensibilities are ironic rather than expressive, the visual ticks providing polemical commentary instead of organically supplementing the human struggles. The film does, however, feature some of the year's best acting (McGregor, Plummer, and Laurent) and is a step in the right direction for Mills following his muddled debut, Thumbsucker.