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Valerie Z. Written by Valerie Z.
Jun. 17, 2011 | 4:05 PM

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I will mention “Tree of Life” and “Beginners” together as they are so similar in theme.  If you are a fan of Terrance Malick’s then go see “Tree of Life”; however, don’t overlook Mike Mills’s sophomore film “Beginners”.

It is based on Mills’s own life:  his parents married in 1955 even though his father told his mother that he is gay.  His mother thought she could change him; so, for forty-four years they stayed together in a love-less marriage until his mother’s death.  Six months after his mother’s death, at the age of 75, his father announced that he is gay and lived his life as a gay man until he died of cancer five years later.

The story opens with Oliver, (Ewan McGregor), packing up his father’s house and having to take his father’s beloved Terrier home to live with him.  A few days later, he goes to a party where he meets a beautiful actress named Anna (Melanie Laurent from “Inglourious Basterds”).  As they fall in love, the story flashes back to his father, Hal (Christopher Plummer) and how he lived his final years as a gay man, taking a much younger lover (Goran Visnjic; “ER”, “The Deep End” ), and how he lived with terminal cancer.  At times, the story flashes back to Oliver as a youngster and his interactions with his mother (Mary Page Keller).

The film has a way of inter twinning these two story lines very well and you also get a history lesson of what it must have been like for his father as he realized that he was gay at age 13, presumably coming of age by the early 1940’s at a time when one had to hide his homosexuality.

If you love dogs, you will love this movie because the dog will steal your heart.  Ewan McGregor is one of the best and most underrated actors today; he has a wonderful and believable vulnerability that he displays onscreen with ease.  Melanie Laurent is luminous and gives another stellar performance.  All of the performances are excellent, really.  The screenplay is a winner with some fantastic comic lines.

If you enjoy a small, well-crafted screenplay with great acting then I highly recommend this film over “Tree of Life” which contains many long, drawn-out scenes with “pretty pictures”, little dialogue and much philosophical narration. ‘Life’ runs well over two hours while “Beginners” is 105 minutes. 

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