Beginners

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Beginners

Beginners

Beginners

Beginners

Beginners

Beginners

Beginners

Beginners

Beginners

Beginners

Beginners

Beginners

Beginners

Beginners

Beginners

Beginners

Beginners

Beginners

Beginners

Beginners

Beginners

Beginners

There are certain films that make me wish I was more of an actual ‘critic’, rather than someone who simply jots down personal impressions of films. Although I have listed a ‘film reviews’ section on the sidebar of this blog, I feel like a bit of a fraud calling what I write on films (and books) ‘reviews’. But I have to call it something, so ‘reviews’ will do. Some films are just so good though, that I wish I had a better vocabulary and a more rounded skill in expressing why. Mike Mills’s Beginners is one such film.

I’ve been saving writing about this film till after I finished writing my book. It’s like my reward. I first saw Beginners in the cinema and walked out in tears (please note if you ever go to the movies with me, I am prone to displays of emotion). I couldn’t wait to get my hands on a DVD copy of it and my friend from the UK kindly sent me one recently. I re-watched Beginners today and fell in love with this film even more. I wanted to write on it straight away.

I don’t really want to talk about the plot of this film, so if you haven’t seen it, here’s a short description. I also don’t want to engage with it intellectually. Certain films make me react by recalling quotes and theoretical material I’ve read. It’s like a game where I connect art and theory together. It’s a very enjoyable game, but it’s not one I play with every film. Beginners just pulled me in at a gut-level, like listening to a beautifully crafted song whose meaning nevertheless resides in the emotions it evokes, rather than in its craft.

So here we are. Why did I love Beginners so much? Well, because it doesn’t try to simplify things that other films often simplify: grief, sadness, love, desire, sex, relationships, happiness. Its honesty and vulnerability is not some black and white construct of elated joy or bleak realism. It moves beyond the familiar genres of sweet, indie self-introspection and depressing, gritty realism. It’s like it puts these genres together in a blender and mixes them to produce something more authentic and more in line with ordinary people’s experiences of life. There are many films that claim (or attempt) to do this, but very few that succeed. At least in my opinion.

You could say this is a film about a multitude of life ‘lessons’: learning to accept who and what you are, learning to love and trust in other people, learning to live with imperfection and disappointment, learning not to be afraid of vulnerability, learning to let go of the baggage of our pasts and our parents. All very important ‘lessons’, yes, but I don’t like didactic films. Rather than being a ‘lesson’, Beginners is an empathetic narrative. It also features one of Ewan McGregor’s best performances. Although I did think he was ever-so-slightly outshined by Arthur the dog. What a neat little man.

I loved everything about Beginners: its story, acting, characters, narration, style, dialogue, humour, sensitivity, cleverness (that never resorted to cool pretentiousness), and so on, and so on. All these aspects worked together in such a natural way. And although I came away from it with many scenes stuck in my mind, there’s one scene that dominates. If you’ve seen the film, you’ll recognise this:

Hal: Well, let’s say that since you were little, you always dreamed of getting a lion. And you wait, and you wait, and you wait, and you wait, but the lion doesn’t come. And along comes a giraffe. You can be alone, or you can be with the giraffe.
Oliver: I’d wait for the lion.
Hal: That’s why I worry about you.

I suspect that’s why my parents worry about me too. But hey, I’ve loved a few giraffes deeply while waiting for my lion. And that lion is somewhere.

If you haven’t seen Beginners, set aside a quiet day to enjoy it. If you have seen it, I’d love to hear your opinion.

60 comments:

Katarina said...

I got this as a Christmas present and saved it for New Year's Day. I loved it. My male co-watcher hated it :D
I often feel like a giraffe, but I'd love to be a lion one day.

Congrats on your book, Hila, make sure you get a well-deserved rest ;) Already made room on my bookshelf for it.

vic said...

Agree 100% on everything. I can't remember seeing a film I've loved so wholly in such a long time.

Karin said...

Sounds like a wonderful movie. I am just like you, tears come easily when watching a movie. I say it's a good thing ;-)

Congrats on finishing your book! Enjoy a lovely Sunday with rest and joy.

RetreatingAndAdvancing said...

I absolutely loved that film and have to re-watch it soon! Ewan McGregor's and Melanie Laurent's performances are simply great and Arthur is beyond words.

Fen said...

ahh I really really wanted to see this at the cinema but missed it :( I'm definitely going to try and rent/buy it asap - you've reminded me how amazing it looks! x

Sarah Rooftops said...

Ah, I was gutted to miss this at the cinema but I didn't realise it was out on DVD already - I've just ordered a copy! Thanks for the reminder!

Jessica said...

Absolutely ditto what you and Vic said. And I love Mike Mills' personal story - as I understand it - transitioning from the top of graphic design to being a beginner in film, which he loved but was no expert in. And now look at this movie! A lesson in persisting.

PS Hila still thinking about your Madonna/LDR comment... hard to express but those two pieces reminded me that until things change any woman artist should be greeted with a more open mind than I've been greeting them with, a sort of "well done for doing it... ok now what do I think?" to overcome the harshness with which their efforts are always met.

Typing this with one hand while eating a scone! X

Petra said...

I haven't seen it, but will. hopefully soon. thanks for the 'review'. I have to think about the lion/giraffe thing now!!!

Danielle P. said...

This sounds like another movie I'd watch over and over again!

The thing about lions and giraffes is that a giraffe in lion's clothing can make you wary of any kind of animal...

Niina said...

Hi,
thank you for letting me know about this film, you got me interested. And huge congrats on your book. I can´t imagine how you must feel after such a huge task.

Jane Flanagan said...

I feel the same way about reviews and call my book posts "book reports" for this very reason. There are critics way more qualified than I am and what I seek when reading is different than good machinery and performance.

But Beginners! I watched it over Christmas, alone, and cried basically from the start. And I loved it for all the reasons you express here. And I fear I am a lion-waiter too. But I worry that lions don't want to stay.

alis said...

Beautifully put. What you wrote is EXACTLY how I felt about this movie. "Beginners" gave me something that is difficult to express with words, and the feelings it evoked will linger in my heart for a while.

Sam | ashore said...

The Beginners was my absolute favorite movie of last year. every time I go to the store and the person I'm with hasn't seen it I feel the need to rent it for them. I'm an ambassador. ( this has happened nine times - ha!)

When I watched it with my dad he asked "it's not that I didn't like it. but what is is that you like about that movie so much?"

I like the idea that we're all beginning over again, all the time. Oliver says in the movie "I'm too old to fall in love" and then here's his dad learning about house music and giving himself away fearlessly to another person. We learn, and don't love well enough, and learn, and try again.

Kate said...

Sounds like just the kind of film I need. And need to see on my own. It's coming to an independent near me and that date's in the diary. Look carefully at your next giraffe: it may have the heart of a lion.

Nancy Baric *negfilm said...

congrats again in completing your book!!!
oh i have never heard about this film so i shall have to seek it out.
and re: calling one's self a critic, reviewer etc...that questions is probably better answered by someone with a film studies background or film scholar (i'm sure they have their views!)...

Wishcandy said...

I really love this movie! I felt it avoided a lot of cliches and was heartwarming.

My parents worry for the same reasons. I hold out out for the lion, none of the giraffes in life have caught my fancy. Not that i didn't try.

Rambling Tart said...

I'm SO glad you "reviewed" this today, Hila. :-) I remember watching the preview and thinking, "I HAVE to watch this." Then clean forgot about it. :-) I'm so glad you're here to remind me of all the lovely things I need to watch and read. :-)

Sasha said...

I clicked this post open and just about broke into smiles of excitement. I can't remember where I saw the trailer for this film but I instantly wanted to watch it. It's been on my "I'd really love to see this soon" list ever since. I'm glad you loved it so much and now I'm even more motivated to find a way to view it!

Mariella said...

What a coincidence Hila, since I saw this movie last week and loved every minute of it!I was actually going to put it on my list of recent discoveries on my blog...if you don't mind. What I loved the most is apart from the performance of the actors, all of them (i love Ewan Mc gregor since trainspotting but that doesn;t count) is the fact that the movie, like you say, is able to speak to different levels and about different themes in an effortless way, without being too dogmatic or too "avant-garde". It's lovely , delightful,touching the music is awesome, the photography is great and Melanie Laurent is enchanting (so is her wardrobe)

Kylin said...

I love reading your "reviews" and was so excited to see this one about Beginners! You express my sentiments on the movie exactly--sentiments which I have found very hard to put into words. I left the theatre, after my first time watching Beginners, knowing I'd just seen one of my favorite movies. Also, I think I've found my lion. Thank you for reminding me of that quote!

rooth said...

Fantastic quote - thanks for the "review"!

Sarah Morgan said...

I've been wanting to watch this film for a while now. The stills you posted are so beautiful -- and I feel I must watch it, if only for that adorable dog!

megan said...

yes! i loved this movie so much. it was the closing-night film of last year's sarasota film festival and christopher plummer was in town to promote it and discuss it and the other movies in his filmography -- i'll always regret not going to hear him speak, and am so glad i got to watch beginners on dvd recently.

my favorite quote from the movie is this one: "people like us, half of them think it will never work out. the other half believe in magic."

(i want to always be that other half.)

Erin said...

I loved this film so much when I saw it last year. I can't wait to see it again. It has stayed with me more than anything else I've seen in the past year or so....so beautiful, and honest.

darcy dubose said...

I was exactly the same way. I fell completely in love with it and knew that I had to own the dvd once I could. (The soundtrack too.) I think that's how I rate movies now; if I'll seek them out to own. (I debated about Melancholia as I was leaving the theater, and it lingered with me for so long that I later decided, yes I would buy the dvd once available.)

I really enjoyed how soft and honest this film was.

odessa said...

ah..this looks so good and i've wanted to see it for the longest time. i will borrow it get it from netflix ASAP! those screencaps (the cute little dog!) are delicious.

Jen said...

Already on my list! "Are we married yet?" How delightful... I didn't know it had a dog with attitude. Cannot wait to see it...

blyve said...

Absolutely agree with you on every aspect. A brilliant film, I love it when great depth - the huge, important topics in life, the things that make our hearts ache - are delivered in such a natural, even kind of lightweight way. It has become one of my favorites.
And I am more a lion person, too ;-)

Chuck said...

I avoided this at the cinema because I was worried that it was going to be too cute. I'll give it a chance now though! I love it when films affect you so much. x

angela said...

I really enjoyed this film as well, I felt it was real yet optomistic. Aurthur the dog gave a superb performance.

yelena bryksenkova said...

thank you for writing about this film, hila.

"my mother told me that jewish girls cannot be beautiful. they can be cute or interesting, but not beautiful."

my mother went to see the film too and this made us both smile. no bitterness or insecurity, it's just a THING. i know exactly what she means, it's such a dear concept. i thought it was kind of personal, too, so to hear it spoken like that was just refreshing, in an "i'm not alone!" sort of way.

the whole film is filled with subtle, very honest bits that struck me with their semblance to real, ordinary life moments.

y.

Jo said...

This film is sweet, without being precious. And, there are so many bits and pieces of these relationships and feelings that different viewers with different life experiences can relate to, just based on the fact that we are all human. I love it.

Gracia said...

I am looking forward to re-visiting this film, Hila, and feel very lucky to have seen it at the Melbourne International Film Festival last year. Mike Mills introduced the film and there was a brief Q&A session afterwards. It was obviously such a beautifully personal work, and I love when this comes through. And that music too, that oh so familiar music of home. Thanks too for sharing that line I love so very much... "Tell her the darkness is about to drown us unless something drastic happens right now"... ah! What can I say?

hungryandfrozen said...

I think with writing this good you can call it a review. I like what you said about engaging with this at a purely emotional level - I'll seek it out. (Also: niiiice screencaps!)

Siubhan said...

I haven't seen it, but now I definitely want to. I love that quotation at the end of your post - it just sums so many things up so well.

The wee dog is super: I wonder if this is the beginning of Jack Russels' domination of cinema?!

Baroness E said...

Hello Hila,

this was my favourite film of the year. i can't add much more to what you said in your review (i agree with your every word) apart from that i am getting myself a copy today. i also identify with the 'had enough of giraffes, where the hell's the lion?' philosophy.

amy said...

i fell in love with it too.

Tana said...

Personally I loved Beginners so much. I found it sincere, sensitive, clever, honest about ordinary moments of life.I agree that all the aspects you've mentioned worked great together.

P R I M O E Z A said...

i enjoyed this film a lot too. i accidentally keep seeing films with people dying in them though, which echoes my own experience last month (when i went to two funerals). it feels a bit eerie.

L.A. PLAYLIST said...

ONE OF THE BEST AND MOST LIFE CHANGING FILMS IVE SEEN HANDS DOWN!!! SO GOOD!!!

Diana Sudyka said...

Oh! I have been wanting to see this, but now I REALLY want to see it. I think that it's all of a sudden movie night over here. Thanks for the beautiful review, without revealing too much of the specifics of the film.

Flora said...

That's a great film!
Have you seen 'creation', the film about Charles Darwin's life. I think you might like it. Beautiful story, beautiful costumes, beautiful colors...
Still love your blog, bravo!!
Flora.

Ana said...

Reading your review made me want to see this beautiful, moving, happy/sad movie again. I'm writing down that quote, is brilliant and I was precisely looking for quotes right now. I love that scene where Arthur asks 'are we married yet?', so nice that you post it :)

Well, wonderful everything. Thanks a lot Hila.

Kelly said...

This was somewhere out on my radar, but wasn't on my "must watch now" list. Thanks to your very insightful review and description, I'm excited and can't wait to get my hand on a copy. Thank you.

Christine said...

Thanks for reminding me how good this film made me feel back when I saw it. How they meet is now one of my favorite meetings in a romance film. Love those stills you threw in of the dog (I think he still might be my favorite character).

Galit said...

I got tickets to a special screening of Beginners last year. it was an evening when I actually planned on going to watch the new Jane Eyre and I was a little disappointed not to!
It was the greatest surprise. Not sure why it was that surprising. I trust Ewan McGregor's choices and Mélanie Laurent is one smart girl that also knows how to pick her parts.
But still, I didn't expect that gentle magical movie. Such a gem of subtlety and honesty.
Mike Mills' drawings also blew me away!
I'm trying to put my hands on his book now and looking forward to watch his Beautiful Losers movie.

It was hands down the best movie of 2011 and entered my top favorite all-time movies.

Hila said...

I think it's unanimous: Beginners is awesome. I thoroughly enjoyed reading all these comments, I wish I had time to respond to them individually at the moment. Thanks everyone!

Hila said...

Jessica: snap! I'm eating a scone now too.

I really agree with what you've said regarding those two articles. I sometimes have to hold my harsher criticism back when it comes to such female artists, because it just feels like I'm participating in the skewed critical attention they get. I hope that one day we could talk about artists without having their gender be the primary concern. Spot on Jessica.

Jane: I'm a firm believer that lions stay when they meet their match. Perhaps I'm too romantic.

Yelena: that Jewish girls line had me smiling too. I've always felt that way about myself :)

Gracia: you lucky thing!

Primoeza/Elizabeth: I hope you're okay, going to funerals drains me in so many ways. Take care. xo

Hila said...

P.S. I just wanted to say thanks again guys. I'm having a surprisingly busy week, so I don't have time to respond to each of you individually. But I can honestly say the comments on this post have me grinning - I love the responses this film has elicited. Thank you for reading my 'review' :)

Ella said...

oh gosh, this is the best post! beginners was such a wonderful movie! :)

Hotly Spiced said...

I haven't seen Beginners but now I absolutely must. I hope your lion reveals himself very soon.

Laure said...

C'est un bon film, je l'ai encore vue la semaine dernière!
J'adore aussi le travail de Miranda July, la petite amie de Mike Mills, le réalisateur. Ses deux films "Me and You and Everyone we know" et "The Future" sont deux ovnis très réussis :D Je te les recommandent vivement si tu ne les a pas vus.

Bonne continuation à toi.

Pinelopi said...

It seems to be the very movie i need to watch...i really like the way you write your reviews! beautiful post!

Hila said...

Thank you, thank you, thank you everyone!

Jen said...

Hila, just wanted to say that after reading your review of Beginners, I sought out the movie. Ridiculously difficult given that a)Christopher Plummer had been nominated for an Oscar (and won. yay!) and b)it's such. a. good. movie.

I loved it!
And the visuals ... the softness... keep coming back to me. Little tufts of substance. Nuggets of truth. All the things that make a good movie GREAT.


Of course the fact that I have a JRT doesn't hurt. at. all.

Thanks for the recommendation!
I'll be waiting for the next. :)

So R. said...

you kinda made me cry... so beautiful. I loved the movie too.

Jade said...

So happy to have found you via your guest post on Miss Moss.

I could not agree with you more about The Beginners. I just adored it. My fiance and I watched it together and it made us feel so close.

Hila said...

Jen: so glad you hunted down a copy and loved it so much!

So R: thanks :)

Jade: Thanks for stopping by via Miss Moss. I loved this movie to bits.

Maria said...

ack, i'm way late but i had to comment on this. i just watched this last night, and it just left me with this...fulfilled feeling. this movie could have gone wrong in so many ways, but it didn't and it was so good and better yet it was touching without trying too hard. i appreciate this post as i think your sentiments are a good way of describing that fulfilled feeling i had (and still have) after watching this film.

James McAllister said...

Haven't seen this one yet, but the screenshots you used are enough for me to download this NOW. The quality of the video production seems outstanding. Plus, I'm a sucker for Ewan McGregor ;) Thanks for the review!