Beginners ★★★★½

Terrific storytelling on every account. The plot is character-driven and with a phenomenal cast to actuate it. These qualities could carry it alone, but here you’ve also got a unique presentation of events misremembered, out of order, even potentially imagined—yet it all makes sense. That’s in part due to the editing, and in another, the narration that cuts in on occasion as a sort of glue: a poetic first-person account from the main character that has the feel of a documentary or novel, proving once again that voiceover is not necessarily a crutch.

The dad has a heartwrenchingly realistic coming-out story, and for a romance that centers mostly around a straight couple, the film demonstrates an incredible awareness of, and respect for, gay culture and history. One could argue that the straight couple needn’t have been at the center, but it also goes out of its way to establish that the main character doesn’t have an ounce of homophobia, and even that by itself makes it more progressive than most.

On Netflix, where one can only give whole-star ratings, I rounded up to 5; here I give it a 4.5. I wanted more of a character arc for the love interest. I’d say she is a 2.5-dimensional character: she is certainly not 2D, as she has her own goals and problems, but she is also not wholly 3D, as she seems to exist solely to be in a relationship with the main character. I wouldn’t say she is a full-fledged MPDG, but she comes close.

In fairness though, that may have been the unfortunate side-effect of not having enough time to flesh her out. There is so much more that the film could have explored, were it not juggling so many subplots (with grace, I must stress), including the dad’s new relationship with a younger man, and even an exploration of the main character’s relationship with his mother through flashbacks. Any of these stories could have been their own movie. Pragmatically, it would have become unmarketable to anyone but me to keep developing characters past 104 minutes.

While it’s fairly gloomy, it’s never crushingly so: the clouds are broken up by shining moments of discovery and fun.

Watching, I felt as though Ewan McGregor, Mélanie Laurent, and Cosmo the Jack Russell Terrier were all competing for cutest actor… no clear winner there.