Greetings again from the darkness. This is a terrific little art-house character study with comedic elements, fine acting and superb writing. The creative force is Mike Mills, who was also the writer and director on another excellent little movie from about 5 years ago called Thumbsucker. When I say “little movie”, I mean intimate and poignant with a nominal budget.
Three interwoven time periods are presented to an effective end. One period shows us Oliver (Ewan McGregor) as a young kid interacting with his mother (Mary Page Keller). Another period shows Oliver’s 75 year old father Hal (Christopher Plummer) confessing to him that he is gay (this is a few months after the mother/wife dies). The third period has Oliver trying to forge a relationship with Anna (Melanie Laurent) whom he met at a costume party.
While that may sound like a simple set-up, I assure you that the complications created by these characters are realistic and head-spinning. It turns out Hal knew he was gay prior to marrying Oliver’s mother, but claims she promised to “fix” him. Once he proclaims his gayness, Hal jumps in with both feet to all causes gay. He thoroughly enjoys himself and even clicks with a new, younger lover. And just when he admits to joy, inoperable cancer is discovered in Hal’s lungs. This begins the second major secret of his life.
The scenes from Oliver’s childhood provide crucial evidence on why he is so solemn and afraid of relationships. He suffers quietly just as his mother did. Things begin to shift for him when, dressed as Freud, his costume party sofa becomes occupied by Anna – a beautiful, alluring French actress who, it turns out, is just as messed up emotionally as is Oliver. They make the perfect threesome … including Arthur, Hal’s Jack Terrier, who (speaking through subtitles) lets us know when things are either OK or not. Arthur takes a great deal of the heaviness away, though not in a slapstick manner.
There are many elements of this film that I really like. The houses of both Hal and Oliver are full of as much personality as either of the characters. The look and pace of the film is meticulous and steady given the material. It seems to be naturally lighted from windows and interior sconces. Nothing even comes close to looking like a Hollywood set.
Ewan McGregor plays his part very close to the vest and conveys the pain and uncertainty that Oliver has learned over the years. His defenses are up! Melanie Laurent was my favorite part of Inglourious Basterds (she was the cinema owner on a mission) and here she offers both hopefulness and melancholy. To me, the heart of the film is Christopher Plummer’s performance. He portrays an elderly gay man with grace and then takes it to another level in his “cancer” scenes. He is a wise man who may or may not understand how selfish he was, but is intent on showing Oliver that it’s never to late to be a “beginner” in love.
SEE THIS MOVIE IF: you can appreciate the special moments that a well made arthouse film can deliver OR you want to see the leader in the clubhouse for Best Supporting Actor (Christopher Plummer)
SKIP THIS MOVIE IF: Thor or X-Men is more your cup of tea, as the only chase scene involves McGregor catching a flight to apologize to Laurent.