Last film of Hellraiser vs. McGregor month tips the balance squarely onto the McGregor side of the scales. Pretty wins over evil. Plus a Julia-less Hellraiser is #notmyHellraiser.
This week my pick is Beginners, which I was planning to watch this weekend and weep into my keyboard either way. As the blog collab proves, it’s better not to attempt that kind of thing alone.
Can I just preface this by saying I went to see this in 2010 in Dayton’s indie theater whilst under the impression that it was a comedy? The film’s poster does nothing to discourage the notion that there will be a lot of smiling, laughter, and adorable interactions between our 3 leads. From the trailer I remember Ewan McGregor, a dog, a romantic relationship, and Ewan McGregor’s discovery that his father (Christopher Plummer!) is gay. All of the aforementioned are elements of this film, along with his father DYING OF CANCER. It is very sweet and honest about how complex family is, but significantly more heartbreaking than I was led to believe.
Where to Watch:
An artist comes to terms with learning his father is gay, dating a much younger man, and has terminal cancer while pursuing a romantic relationship of his own.
The Uncondensed Version:
This film alternates between several past storylines during Oliver’s childhood, his father’s terminal illness, and the “present” (2003).
In the present, Oliver is clearing out his father’s house and helping his dog, Arthur, adjust to a new life. I’m not even a dog person, but the dog is fucking adorable. Oliver, still reeling from the loss of his father, holds conversations with Arthur and introduces him to Oliver’s place.
Oliver is also still trying to make sense of the last few years, when his mother died, his father (Hal) revealed that he was gay, started dating a younger man, and became heavily involved with the gay community. Also in the present, Oliver meets a young woman at a costume party (Melanie Laurent!) and wants to pursue a relationship with her but fears becoming his parents.
So let’s move chronologically or this is going to get really fucking confusing. Oliver remembers very little of his father during childhood, a consequence of his father both (a) working all the damn time and (b) actively concealing a major part of his identity. As a result, Oliver mostly remembers his mother being alone and getting drunk at art galleries. She always dodges questions about where Hal is and whether she is happy or not, but memorably tells him about the cathartic power of screaming. When Oliver says he doesn’t feel like screaming, she tells him “You will.”
Bringing it forward to Hal’s big gay reveal, Oliver is really uncomfortable as it makes him question his parents’ relationship and his entire childhood. Plus Hal’s boyfriend, Andy, is basically Oliver’s age, which has to be a bit strange for both of them. Either way, Hal has many visitors, the most dedicated being Oliver and Andy. When Hal gets the stage 4 cancer diagnosis, he hides the truth from Andy and, at a certain point, seems to forget he’s dying. Hal buys a lot of nice clothes, books, and throws a lot of parties. He really wants to see Oliver settle down, but offers the somewhat disheartening advice of “Don’t wait for the lion when you can settle for the giraffe.”
This part is way more heartbreaking than I’m making it sound.
And leads us to the present, in which Oliver is trying (and failing) to throw himself into his work as an artist so he won’t have to think about his father’s death. Finally, upon the insistence of his friends, he attends a costume party (it seems like it should be a Halloween party, but it’s unclear if it actually is) as Freud, bringing along Arthur so he doesn’t get lonely.
It turns out to be a fateful night, as he meets Anna, who looks impeccable in a suit and is very perceptive despite laryngitis leaving her without a voice. After the party, Oliver calls her and they have a sort of date, which mostly involves Anna pointing at places where Oliver should drive.
The two begin dating for real even though Anna is an actress and due to return to NYC for an audition shortly. It gets personal when Oliver tells her about what he’s been dealing with during the past few years, and Anna tells him her dad calls her when he’s having suicidal thoughts. She used to find her life freeing, but now hates being in hotels all the time now and how easy it is to leave people. Oliver very wisely tells her you can stay in the same place and still find ways to leave people, which is a blow below the emotional belt.
After bonding over graffiti-ing a billboard, Oliver asks Anna to move in, which doesn’t go as smoothly as anticipated. It’s a big step for both parties, and Oliver says this isn’t what he’s supposed to feel like. Taking the hint, Anna decides to move back to NYC. To borrow a page from Christa’s book and leave you hanging with a question, is that it for Anna and Oliver? Will they change their minds or go their separate ways for good?
4.5/5 Pink Panther Heads
I love this film and I would probably get into a fistfight about it. The characters have very real reactions to their circumstances. Oliver and Hal become closer during the last years of Hal’s life, but they never have a perfect relationship. Throughout the film, Oliver carries around the burden of guilt and regret for the unhappiness and imperfection in his parents’ lives; however, he can acknowledge the past without becoming it. Or can he???
You may be able to find out here in Christa’s review! But maybe not. She will probably leave you with a similar string of questions, won’t she???
On a side note, it’s only fair to warn you that Ewan has an American accent in this, which just isn’t as beautiful as his Scottish accent. However, he does look really good in stripes, and that basically makes up for it.