In 2003 Oliver Fields (Ewan McGregor) loses his father (Christopher Plummer), gains a Jack Russell and falls in love with a French actress called Anna (Mélanie Laurent). The story of Anna and Oliver’s burgeoning romance, and Oliver grieving, is sprinkled throughout with scenes from Oliver’s childhood with his mother and the final few months of his father’s life as he is diagnosed with cancer and comes out of the closet as a gay man.
It would be easy to call out Beginners for being overly twee, the Manic Pixie Dream Girl is fully present, Mike Mills takes on an occasionally stylised directing style and the dog has subtitles, but in truth the film comes off as charming rather than quirky. My worries than the varies story threads would be completely separate, and the love story merely a tacked on extra, we unfounded.
Through seeing Oliver’s childhood with a dissatisfied mother and his joy at seeing his terminally ill but newly reborn father’s joyful final months, we understand everything affecting his relationship with Anna. We can see what is holding him back and pushing him forward without it ever being said in dull dialogue, though perhaps the same cannot be said for Anna.
The three leads, McGregor, Plummer and Laurent, give equally layered and subtle performances but are all overshadowed by the greatest Jack Russell ever. There’s a special joy to be found in small dogs with faces resembling old men.
Beginners isn’t going to blow your mind but is a small film with a lot of charm.
100 points if you spot Lou Taylor Pucci’s cameo.