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.

1 comment:

  1. Did you really think that was Oliver's dog who was thinking in subtitles? I believe that was Oliver projecting his own thoughts onto the dog who like all dogs was not really thinking anything at all besides "feed me" and "don't leave."

    I saw the film. Liked it about as much as you did. Maybe even moreso. But I think Mike Mills needs to come clean. The narrative, plot details, time code, visual approach to story telling, wry humor, and plot threads all came from a handful of graphic novels. Many scenes unfurled in a series of locked down shots like the panels of a comic book. I have no problem with artistic borrowing or theft, especially since Mills picked some really good books to lift his story. I just hope he has the guts to come clean.

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