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‘Beginners’ takes reviewer by surprise

Posted: July 28, 2011 - 9:21am

“Beginners”
Olympus Pictures
1 hour, 45 minutes

Our review this week was, much to my surprise, an appraisal of a quietly sweet homage to love, aging, and the joy of being true to oneself, even if that truth is difficult.

Read that over carefully, and you’ll quickly realize that I’m not describing this weekend’s blockbuster “Captain America,” which would probably read more as an explosive homage to brightly colored costumes, gun battles, and Nazi butt-kicking. I had planned to go see “Captain America” along with every other comic-loving geek in the country, but it turns out that, since I’m still in Great Britain, ‘ol Cap starts a week later. Americans definitely got a leg up on this release, but I guess it makes sense. He is our hero. If they ever make a Union Jack movie, it’ll certainly open in London first.

Be that as it may, the alternative to “Captain America,” a fine independent film called “Beginners,” was more than worth the visit.

“Beginners,” a small film with a very foreign feel, is set in 2003 Los Angeles and stars Ewan Macgregor, Christopher Plummer, and Melanie Laurent, who will seem familiar, though difficult to place. I finally realized that she played the ridiculously courageous Nazi fighter Shoshanna in “Inglorious Basterds,” but her resume is probably more extensive in Europe. Macgregor plays a chronically sad artist who, following the death of his father from lung cancer, must pick up the pieces of his life and attempt to find a way to come to terms with not only his father’s death, but with his life, as well.

The film is structured in a seemingly haphazard, back and forth manner, but the plot is deftly handled and fits the subject matter well. Jumping back five years, we are introduced to the father, played beautifully by Plummer, who reveals at age 75, that he is gay. Has always been gay, in fact, and it is only the sad passing of his wife that has spurred him to seek love and a life that he can finally be comfortable in. “I don’t want to just be theoretically gay,” he tells his son, “I want to live with the time I have left.”

Leaping back into the present, we are introduced to Macgregor’s friends, a jolly pair who try to engage their pal in a number of ways, before finally succeeding, by accident, at a costume party where we meet a beautiful and free-spirited actress played by Laurent. The two hit it off, but things are difficult for our hero, having little experience with stable, happy relationships to draw from.

What follows is a voyage of discovery for Macgregor, as he learns to love while coming to an understanding of his father through an overlapping series of flashbacks and flash forwards. Laurent is excellent and we soon learn that her character has issues of her own, which her slowly evolving relationship allows her to explore as well.

Finally, there’s a dog — a cute Jack Russell terrier which could have been a huge mistake, but which only adds to the sweetness of this humorous and heartfelt tale.

Likely as not, “Beginners” won’t be playing anywhere near you anytime soon. An indie theater in a bohemian section of London is one thing — even a theater-pub in Anchorage — but it’s a good bet that this will have to be a renter for most people on the Peninsula. Regardless, it’s not to be missed. A beautifully sweet story, wonderful acting, and a nice, measured pacing combine to make a very special cinematic experience. “Captain America” will be there for a long time, and as fun as it may well end up being, it will essentially be something we’ve all seen before. “Beginners” is something else entirely, and I have to say I’m very glad “The First Avenger” was delayed a week.

Grade: A

“Beginners” is rated 15A in England, a rating that basically lines up with an R in the U.S. It does have a little bit of strong language and some brief mild nudity, but very little in the way of objectionable content.

Chris Jenness is a freelance graphic designer, artist and movie buff who lives in Nikiski.

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