"Beginners" is director and screenwriter Mike Mills' love letter to his father, but its also something of a love letter to Los Angeles.
Every couple of years there are a few films that seem to capture LA at that particular time. For those of us live in the City of Angels, these movies break through the Hollywood sheen seen in TV shows or broad studio films that usually shoot here. Think of "Swingers" in 1996, Michael Mann's "Collateral" in 2004, Steve Martin's "Shopgirl" in 2005 or Catherine Hardwicke's "Thirteen" in 2003. And while "Beginners" takes place in the early 2000s, it gives itself away as a movie very much of 2010 from its locations, it's style and the characters that populate Mills' touching story of coming to terms with yourself in order to find love.
Mills is best known for his previous indie "Thumbsucker," his music videos for artists such as Moby and Air, and his acclaimed work as a graphic designer. His cinematic breakthrough, however, is inspired by a time in his life when his own father, at the age of 75, came out to him as a gay man. His father went all "out," relatively speaking, for the final five years of his life and became an inspiration to his only son.
Ewan McGregor, who plays Oliver in the film, actually lives in Los Angeles and we talked about some of the Echo Park, Silverlake and Los Feliz neighborhoods that dominate the pictures landscape. We also discussed how hard it was to play Oliver, who is pretty much standing in for Mills in this semi-autobiographical story. McGregor says he didn't try to copy Mills' mannerisms, but "I watched him and tried to feel like him. It's my verson of Mike. They are his words. It's very much him."
The film also features standout performances by Christopher Plummer as Oliver's father and Melanie Laurent as the girlfriend whose love he might finally avoid sabotaging. This pundit was a huge fan of the film when it debuted at the 2010 Toronto Film Festival and a second viewing only cemented my opinion that it will no doubt be one of the best films released in 2011.
For more on the picture, check out my sit down with McGregor embedded in this post.
"Beginners" opens in limited release in New York and Los Angeles today. It's another "must see" for what's turning out to be a very strong movie weekend.