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Art & Culture

Despite the Oscar which Christopher Plummer won (Best Supporting Actor) for Beginners, I have a strong suspicion that very few people have seen the film. Having watched it for a second time last night – it was even better than the first time – I strongly recommend that you give it a try.

There is so much to appreciate, that it's hard to know where to start, but let's take the cast. Ewan McGregor has never been better as a 38 year old American designer/artist who has been looking after his dying father, and is now faced with a new love affair, knowing that all his previous relationships have ended in failure. Sadness is the undeclared element of his character. Christopher Plummer won his Oscar playing the father, a man who after 45 years of marriage, decides to come out as gay at the age of 75, when his wife dies, and has a few years of great happiness. Melanie Laurent, who plays McGregor's new love, is not only beautiful, but likeable, vulnerable and credible as an actress who falls in and out of love, and moves on when things get complicated or intense. Last but not least, there's Arthur, the dog who McGregor inherits from his dad, and who is a rival to Uggie in The Artist as the most appealing canine screen presence in recent years.

Watching the film a second time, I was struck by how many difficult things the film does well. Here's a list of a few. Voiceovers are notoriously dodgy; cinema history is littered with examples of how not to do it. Beginners uses v/o beautifully. Father/son relationship – moving, credible and touching – never sentimental. Gay relationships, and especially positive images of the gay community – beautifully drawn. Music – imaginative and complementary, never intrusive or obvious. First date – fantastic; romantic, funny, appealing, and enviable. Flashbacks – which are  even harder than voiceovers to do well – are handled with elegance and wit. Images flash on the screen as we identify what happened at different times in the lives of the main characters. And the relationship between McGregor's character as a boy, and his eccentric mother, are a model of subtlety explaining how he came to be the way he is.

There are so few films that are thoroughly enjoyable first time round, let alone improved on second viewing (Dean Spanley is another), that I want to encourage you to watch this film. It doesn't sell itself automatically, being neither a romcom, a weepie or any other two dimensional stereotype. It's charming, funny (often very), sweet, sad, elegant and eloquent, and not too long. It begins well, ends well, and never sags in the middle. What more can you ask for?

By Phil Raby

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