Directed by Mike Mills
Unnecessarily fragmented plot progression, emotionally lacking performances, and a thoroughly unengaging central storyline, Beginners could very well be the biggest upset of 2011.
Christopher Plummer is probably going to win the Best Supporting Actor Oscar this year, and sadly, he will not deserve it. Plummer, who has yet to win an Oscar (+1), plays Ewan McGregor's father, a widower dying of cancer (+1), who has just come out of the closet (+1). His son struggles to accept his father's new lifestyle, but eventually comes to terms with the fact that it is the only way for him to be truly happy (+1). His performance - nay, his entire role - is nothing more than a checklist of reasons why movie awards are a joke: A sad joke that only awards material overwrought with "socially relevant" melodrama.
At this point it may seem that my disdain for such shamelessly exploitative Oscar-bait is far too dramatized for me to see past this relatively small aspect and see the wonderful movie just beneath the surface. Sadly, this is not the case. Not only did I find this particular awards grab quite distracting, but also found myself quite agitated by the narrative structure, which seemed convoluted and confusing just for the sake of it. Given the straight-forward nature of this film, a more linear method of storytelling would have been much more fitting.
Even considering my obvious hatred for Plummer's character's inclusion in this picture (not as a personal bias, but rather against what the character stands for), I still found his performance to be the best in the movie. McGregor and Laurent both provide solid leads, but their extreme lack of chemistry made for a very stale and unconvincing pair. Plummer and Visnjic, despite their (intentionally) mismatched nature, made for a much more convincing couple, and successfully manage to elevate the film above a level of pure cinematic exploitation.
Massive flaws in script, resulting in poor character and plot development prove to be the film's biggest weakness. These same rules don't apply for all genres, but for a movie like this (which is largely reliant on structure and dialogue for it to work) the result is catastrophic; I cannot emphasize enough how unnecessarily convoluted the presentation of this movie was.
Not only did I not find most of the dramatic aspects of this film even remotely engaging, but the comedy, too, was something of a letdown. In order for movies to work, it helps if they possess some of the traits which they try so hard to convey: Comedies require comedy; Dramas require drama. Plain and simple. Beginners is a failure in both departments.
Perhaps up to this point I have been a bit too dramatic in my criticism. In spite of its weaknesses, it really could have been much worse: At least it was only 100 minutes long.