“Beginners”: a small movie on the brink of greatness

Ewan McGregor shines in this movie. There’s not a hint of the Norman Wisdom which sometimes afflicts him in cheekier moments. But the charm is certainly there. He is much more credible as an existentially sad man than he was as a writer in Ghost. But this isn’t a sad film and it scrupulously avoids the feel-good too. It’s the kind of paint-dryer one may well watch again and again.

Melanie Laurent is the preternaturally nice Anna who decides the gloomy cartoonist Oliver is worth the time and trouble as he frets through his feelings about his late-gay father and his larky mother (a woman on the verge of a nervous breakdown, as so many fag-hags seem to be). Laurent does her work with none of the kitteny princess-ship which makes one hover on the brink of loathing for the standard French actress.

Plummer is great, and so’s the Jack Russell. Mary Page Keller makes a superb wife and mother, circling the distrait, but not quite flushed away as she remembers that she made a deal with Hal/Plummer and is in any case obligated to some some sort of parenthood. She thinks he ought to be educated in sadness and in dissidence, and shows him the discreet way.

But the miracle is that so null a creature as Oliver comes to life in McGregor’s hands. As a character, I imagined him as a grown-up version Julianne Moore’s son in The Hours. He seemed within his rights not to trust himself to be any use at managing anything as tricky as real life. I believed him when he tried to keep things in sensibe, drawable, snippable compartments. And I liked him, and wished him well.

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Publication date

12 August 2011


On movies