Beginners – Blu-ray (2011)
Starring: Ewan McGregor, Christopher Plummer, Melanie Laurent
Director: Mike Mills
Studio: Universal Studios Home Entertainment [11/15/11]
Video: 1.85:1 for 16:9 1080p HD Color
Audio: Dolby Digital 2.0, DTS Master Audio 5.1
Subtitles: English SDH, Spanish, French
Extras: A Short Film About Making Beginners; Beginners Promo; Feature Commentary With Writer/Director Mike Mills
Length: 104 minutes
Director Mike Mills has constructed a fragmented, personal story of relationships in Beginners. Essentially the story is about Oliver, a graphic artist (Ewan McGregor)) dealing with his recently (after forty-four years of marriage) declared gay father (Christopher Plummer) who has terminal cancer. Much of this storyline is revealed through flashbacks utilizing archival supposedly historical footage and photographs. An ensuing story evolves as Oliver meets a complex French actress (Melanie Laurent of Inglorious Bastards) that forces him to evaluate his past relationships. Told in the present, these memories (including some of his sardonic, unfulfilled mother), transform Oliver into a person who embraces life’s unpredictability.
With quirky technique, the interlocking themes mesh well. Oddities like conversations with his father’s Jack Russell terrier (in subtitles, of course) move the narrative. The deliberate pace is a vehicle for seasoned actors like Plummer and McGregor. Small excerpts of noteworthy events unfold with graceful ease. Oliver’s father describes his first visit to a gay bar in a moving telephone call to his son. There is a poignant exchange with his oncologist that transcends maudlin stereotypes of past movies. Mills’ direction of the actors is unassuming. McGregor’s understated acting is effective in the tenuous pursuit of romantic commitment. Plummer’s character is buoyant, not over the top. Often facial expressions are more revelatory than any forced dialogue. Mills manages to evoke sentiment without conceit. The introduction of the two lovers at a costume party (with McGregor as Freud, and Laurent as a patient with laryngitis) is humorous and charmingly demure. Oliver’s inevitable epiphany is not mawkish, but precariously optimistic. A clever music score juxtaposes vintage jazz with moody indie piano themes as the film moves back and forth in time.
The transfer to Blu-ray is subtle and maintains the straightforward cinematography. Both dialogue and music are rendered with pristine clarity (Dolby Digital 2.0 and 5.1). Bonus features include an incisive short (in black and white) about the making of Beginners that enhances the idiosyncratic nature of this film.
This limited edition Record Store Day vinyl release transcends movie scores.