Writes Roger Ebert:
Six months after his mother dies, Oliver's father tells him something startling: "I am gay." His father is 75 and was married for 38 years. Oliver himself is about 38 when he learns this news and is in a different sort of closet: Afraid of failing, afraid of commitment, afraid to trust, he has never had a meaningful relationship. "Beginners" is about how both men find love. It is a film in which only a dog named Arthur seems to hold everything in perspective.
No, this isn't a comedy about a talking dog. Arthur has only a bit part and communicates in subtitles, thinking the kinds of thoughts that dogs, who are obsessed with the study of humans, might indeed think. But the presence of this wise Jack Russell terrier provides a perspective apart from sexuality and personality, one that perceives merely when everything is, or is not, as it should be.
Oliver, played by the engaging Ewan McGregor, is an artist whose work, apparently successful, communicates a reluctance to be sure and bold. His father, Hal, is played by Christopher Plummer as a man who arrived at an agreement with his late wife, Georgia (Mary Page Keller), many years ago and has been true to it. He has always known he is gay, and his revelation to his son conveys pride, relief and a kind of joy. Perhaps he has arrived at an age when only his son could be expected to care about this unexpected information.
The film moves easily with three time frames. There is the period between his father's announcement and his own death a few years later, the period in Oliver's life after the death, and flashbacks to Oliver's memories of childhood. If we must extract a meaning from "Beginners," it may be that it is never too late to make a fresh start, and the father sets an example for his son.
Christopher Plummer, an actor filled with presence and grace, brings a dignified joy to his new gay lifestyle. He delights in the gay pride rainbow, dances in clubs, throws parties and introduces Oliver to his boyfriend, Andy (Goran Visnjic). This Andy is so improbably handsome that the liaison seems unlikely, but we grow convinced that Andy truly and deeply loves the old man, with a fullness that almost shames Oliver. The film pays due attention to Hal's happiness and to the process of his death, which he approaches with the consolation that at last there is nothing he must keep secret.
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