With the Toronto International Film Festival drawing to a close, I wanted to catch up and fill you in on a few films that I caught during the festival that as of yet, don’t have a US distributor:
What would you do if your father came out of the closet at the age of 75?
Well, director/artist Mike Mills decided to use this question as the starting off point for his lovely 2nd feature film, Beginners, which premiered here in Toronto earlier this week. It’s the follow up to his debut Thumbsucker, which premiered in Toronto in 2005.
What makes the film so lovely, what makes it feel so authentic and dear, is the fact that it’s based on Mills’ own experience. His father came out in his 70s after the death of his wife, Mills’ mother. His dad ran an art museum; his mother worked on houses. Mills is an artist whose whimsical artwork have graced album covers and art gallery walls, just like the main character, Oliver, played beautifully by Ewan McGregor. And just like Mills, Oliver is dealing with the semi-recent death of both his parents, and how to grieve for them and continue on.
Although the splashier element of the plot is the bit about the old man (and his son) coming to terms with his sexuality, the film is really about the grieving process after a father’s death. We see Oliver cleaning out his family house and going through his parents books and clothes. And we see flashbacks of Oliver’s youth, where we see his parents interact (with the sense of a growing distance between them.)
While we mostly see Christopher Plummer’s character after he has come out — happily learning the ropes of his new gay life — our encounters with Oliver’s mother are seen through the eyes of little boy Oliver; we see mother and son poking fun at high-faluting museum goers, or taking long car rides to nowhere.
It is clear that the whimsy and the sadness found in Oliver’s art and Mill’s art, by extension, can be traced back to his artistic, funny and odd mother (In a Q&A after a screening of Beginners, Mills revealed that the drawings from the film were done by both him and McGregor but anyone familiar with Mills’ work will notice his particular style.)
So the film ends up being a love story, about a departed father, a departed mother, and a new love, Anna, played by French actress, Mélanie Laurent (Inglourious Basterds). As a viewer you will fall in love with Anna, just as Oliver has.
But will these crazy kids, both of them unsure of what a real, true love and marriage are supposed to look like, be able to work it out? Hopefully, someone will pick up this film and you can see for yourself.
[Update: Focus Features purchased Beginners.]