Beginners—A Light-Hearted Look at a Dark Era

Rodger StreitmatterIn 2005, Brokeback Mountain depicted the pain that two men were forced to endure because they’d fallen in love during the days of intolerance when LGBT people had little choice but to stay locked inside the closet.

Now the new film Beginners goes a similar route. This time, though, moviegoers see the consequences of those days not as felt by the LGBT people, but by their children.

The lead character in the buoyant and disarming film, played by Ewan McGregor, is a 38-year-old47295_1 straight man who’s the son of a gay man, played by Christopher Plummer, who stayed in the closet until he was 75. The father had recognized his homosexuality when he was in his teens, but he didn’t come out until after his wife died some six decades later.

At once sweet, sad, funny, and endearing, Beginners has two main plotlines—one centered on the
McGregor character’s relationship with a beautiful young French woman, played by Mélanie Laurent, and the other focused on Plummer’s late-in-the-game embrace of all things gay, gay, gay!

47293Adding a layer of pathos to the film is the father being diagnosed with lung cancer a year after he comes out. If this element strikes the reader as a little too much to believe, it’s not. Writer and director Mike Mills drew the central facts of his movie from his own life, as he found himself in a similar position to the McGregor character’s about a decade ago.

So what consequences of being the child of a closeted gay man does Beginners explore?

The son in the film is smart, sensitive, talented, easy on the eyes, and the definition of likeable. In short, McGregor’s character seems to have everything he needs to enjoy life. And yet, as the movie unfolds with him meeting and falling in love, it becomes clear that he’s saddled with issues involving a fear of failing and a lack of trust in relationships that have their roots in his parents having spent 44 years in a marriage that was a sham.

Plummer’s character and his wife, played by Mary Page Keller, had walked down the aisle knowing he was gay. Flashbacks to those earlier years show the wife suffering from a feeling of emptiness in her life, while the husband compensated for the unfulfilling marriage by giving his wife a perfunctory kiss in the morning and then staying at the office much later than a loving husband and father should have.

So when McGregor tries to move his romantic relationship with the French beauty to the next level, his efforts are hampered by his47294 memories of his parents’ hollow marriage. He wants to make it work, but the guy—who has the emotional depth of a bonsai tree—can’t connect, on an intimate level, with her.

Despite the seemingly “downer” themes described in the last few paragraphs, Beginners is often very funny.

Much of the humor comes as the viewers see Plummer’s character hurl himself into the gay world with a vim, vigor, and joie de vivre that’s both fun to watch and a reminder of just how much the LGBT community has to offer.

He joins gay book and movie clubs, he develops a support system of loyal gay friends, and he begins waving the rainbow flag as if he were the drum major leading a Gay Pride parade. Most significant of all, Plummer manages to nab himself a beau, played by former ER hunk Goran Visnjic, who’s not only several decades his junior but also loving and supportive. Go, Dad!

(Incidentally, the title Beginners refers to the son and father both embarking, during the film, on new chapters in their lives.)

More humor comes from the words that come from McGregor’s adorable and intuitive Jack Russell terrier named Arthur, played by Cosmo, who’s more willing to tell it like it is than are his human masters. To me, the most poignant statement in the film comes when McGregor is struggling to communicate to his lady love how desperately he wants her in his life, so the dog feeds him the line, via a subtitle displayed at the bottom of the screen, “Tell her that the darkness is about to swallow us if we don’t do something.”

52289Another laudable aspect of the R-rated Beginners that LGBT moviegoers will appreciate is the McGregor character’s unstinting support of his gay father. Whether the septuagenarian is staying out at dance clubs into the wee hours of the morning or announcing that his hottie boyfriend is moving in, the son never judges. . . . Now if we can just transfer that kind of acceptance from the movie screen to real life.

By Rodger Streitmatter


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