Last month, Mike Mills’ Beginners was screened at Berkeley’s Shattuck Cinemas and was followed with a Q&A with Mills and star of the movie, Ewan McGregor. It was McGregor’s first time seeing the entire film which he described to be a “beautifully woven context.”
Mills and McGregor spoke adoringly of each other, grabbing each other’s shoulders and speaking nostalgically of the good old times they spent wracking their heads over scripts and visual montages. McGregor had been given the freedom to explore the emotional content of the scenes, with much of the character being a collaboration between the two. “I was portraying a flavor of him,” said McGreggor about representing Mills, “It’s impossible to remember what was in the script and what wasn’t.”
There were many photo-based historical monologues dispersed throughout the film, providing a backdrop to the society and culture surrounding each character’s story. A long-time resident of the Bay Area, Mills drew upon San Fransisco’s gay liberation movement to set the context of the father figure in the film. Hal (Christopher Plummer), who’s story draws upon the life of Mills’ own father, had been married for 45 years, but became openly gay after his wife’s death. “I had conversations in my head with my dad,” Mills said about finding the creative energy behind the character.
The film was extremely personal to Mills, who admitted that he got a bit teary eyed seeing Ewan playing the role of Oliver, a lonesome young man trying to play it right with a new found love while holding on to memories of his slowly dying father. Though Mills was afraid to express intimate details in this film, his release of personal feelings is what makes this film relatable and touching. The charming characters, hand-drawn artwork, and visual timelines are what bring an authentic touch to this film about everyday people, searching to find a new beginning.
Beginners is now showing in select theatres.