Christopher Plummer has had a long, distinguished career in movies.
From such iconic roles as Capt. Von Trapp in “The Sound of Music” to his recent Academy Award-nominated performance in “The Last Station,” Plummer has rightfully gained much respect in the film world.
But he has yet to nab that danged Oscar (and “Station” is his only nomination to date). His marvelous performance in “Beginners” (which opened Friday in Wichita) might change that, and could very well generate Oscar buzz next spring.
In the comedy/drama, Plummer plays Hal, the aging father of Oliver (Ewan McGregor). One day, Hal tells Oliver that he’s dying of cancer — and that he is gay. This after being married to Oliver’s recently deceased mother for 20-some years.
So Hal wants to get out and have a gay life as quick as he can, while he can. He joins gay support groups, goes to gay-oriented clubs, and starts wearing scarves around his neck. He soon has a much younger boyfriend.
This is all jarring to Oliver, who nonetheless supports his father and is touched by seeing him truly happy for the first time in his life.
And though Plummer has the showier role — revealing a renewed vigor for life that quickly gets ravaged by disease — the film is really Oliver’s story, and McGregor’s thoughtful performance carries it well.
He is the narrator, and explains about his life in non-linear flashbacks, going back to his childhood, intermingled with flashbacks of the time right before his father dies.
That is mixed in with his present day, which finds him trying to cope with grief. He’s lonely and sad, going through his father’s things, and finding solace in caring for Hal’s pet dog.
Until he meets beautiful French actress Anna (the effervescent Melanie Laurent), who re-ignites a spark that he thought he had lost, and makes him re-evaluate his thoughts on life, love and marriage.
The film certainly has funny moments, particularly involving Hal. But most of it is a profound meditation on relationships and how they shape who we are.
And though the multiple time and story lines sound unwieldy, director/co-writer Mike Mills (who helmed the indie hit “Thumbsucker” a few years ago) keeps it all manageable. The story moves along on multiple levels, and is engaging and poignant.
Mills’ script is peppered with lots of colorful details that we later see make a whole. And his style is playful, quirky and imaginative (the dog has subtitles for his thoughts).
At its heart, “Beginners” is really a coming-of-age story, one that’s melancholy a lot of the time. But it’s ultimately warm and life-affirming.