a man with a large false beard and a pipe holds a medium-sized dog
Collaborative Blogging, Film Reviews

Beginners, AKA Experts at Fashion and Shredding My Heart into Little Pieces

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.

The Film:

Beginners

Where to Watch:

Netflix (US)

The Premise:

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.

an older man in a club dances among a group of men
This looks way too boring to be a gay club.

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.

a dog sits in the corner of a bathroom, thinking "Tell her the darkness is about to drown us unless something drastic happens right now"
Also because Arthur is a great wingman.

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.

A man and woman lean over a book surrounded by disorganized shelves in a used bookstore. A dog sits at their feet.
This is pretty much porn to me.

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?

The Rating:

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.

a man looks off-camera while wearing a striped sweater
BOOM.

Collaborative Blogging, Film Reviews

Hector and the Search for Happiness, or: Feelings, Nothing More Than Feelings

Christa’s pick because I guess this is still romance week(s), but we’re a little romanced out. Also Simon Pegg. See Christa’s thoughts here!

The Film:

Hector and the Search for Happiness

The Premise:

Films like this make me question including a summary. Hector (Simon Pegg) travels the world searching…for…(act surprised)…HAPPINESS.

The Trailer:

The Uncondensed Version:

The most important thing you need to know about this film is that it begins with Simon Pegg and a dog flying in a biplane. If this is an image that appeals to you, you may enjoy this film. If you think that sounds a bit over the top and, frankly, cheesy, then this film may not be up your alley.

Our movie follows Hector, a psychiatrist who likes his nice, quiet, comfortable life with his girlfriend, Clara (Rosamunde Pike). As her jackass boss points out, Clara has yet to discover the words “maternity” or “leave.”

The usual routines get upset when Clara finds a picture of Hector with someone named Agnes. Hector also brings out the “Are you happy?” question with extremely poor timing. Honestly, Hector really does want to know what makes people happy, and decides to travel around the world conducting his research.

A man wearing glasses faces a woman who is wearing oversized black glasses.
You think I’m unhappy? Did the giant hipster glasses give me away???

Hector’s first stop is China, where a cranky rich dude argues that money is happiness. In contrast, we get the Dalai Lama (I presume?) telling Hector that the key to happiness is, among other things, not to avoid unhappiness.

Next stop is to visit Hector’s friend, a doctor in an indeterminate African nation. Basically, all kinds of shit goes down, but Hector does make friends with a powerful drug dealer. Cool?

Finally, Hector travels to Los Angeles to meet up with Agnes, thus freaking Clara the fuck out. On the plane, someone asks if there’s a doctor in the house b/c there’s a woman whose brain is swelling. She doesn’t want the plane to stop because she’s on the way to visit her sister one last time, so Hector requests the plane fly at a lower altitude. Okay, I’m sorry, but if you’re having a medical emergency, I think they would stop the fucking plane whether you want to or not. Hector, the very soul of nobility, gives his first class seat to the woman and spends the rest of the flight trying to make her feel better. To be honest, this entire scene makes faking a medical emergency on a plane seem very appealing.

After the plane lands, everyone APPLAUDS. I CALL BULLSHIT; NO ONE WOULD BE APPLAUDING AFTER PRESUMABLY HAVING A LONGER FLIGHT B/C THEY HAD TO FLY AT LOWER ALTITTUDE.

A man on a plane tends to an unconscious woman.
You beautiful angel, you are NOT REAL.

Anyway, Hector arrives in LA. Also Agnes is Toni Collette, which is fantastic. Agnes is happily married with children, but she has some great connections in the psychology field, including Christopher Plummer in a beanie. He has developed a device for people to wear, after which he can diagnose what emotions they are feeling.

A man sits next to an older man (played by actor Christopher Plummer) in a medical office.
EDELWEISS, EEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEDELWEISS…

Hector doesn’t have grown up feelings until Clara calls, and it lights up every part of his brain. He’s got more feelings than someone watching a Pixar movie.  Does this mean Hector has finally found the key to happiness???

The Critique:

Simon Pegg was so adorable in this film, and Rosamunde Pike too. I really liked that the message of this film was, among other things, that it’s okay to enjoy the everyday moments of life and the seemingly dull routines…though it is necessary to challenge yourself and be a bit uncomfortable at times.

This was a fun, upbeat film, but at times it was a little too upbeat. I found myself overanalyzing certain situations in which people turn out not to be complete assholes with really sketchy ulterior motives (but I suppose that may be more of a reflection of my general state of mind at the moment).

I also expected us to delve into Hector’s childhood a bit more, as there were clearly some issues there. I suppose it was kind of refreshing that this wasn’t a film in which talking about trauma made its impact suddenly disappear.

And on a side note, towards the end of the film, Hector Skypes with the Dalai Lama, who seems surprised to see him. It makes me uncomfortable to think the Dalai Lama is on Chatroulette or something, but in what other video chat scenario would you be so surprised to see someone you know? No?

The Rating:

Small Pink PantherSmall Pink PantherSmall Pink PantherHalf Pink Panther head 3.5/5 Pink Panther Heads

I’m a harsh critic, what can I say? Honestly, I got hung up on that plane scene, which seemed to argue for the basic decency of passengers on long trips.

What did Christa think? Find out in her post here!