By Jeffrey Anderson,
Common Sense Media Reviewer
Common Sense Media Reviewers
Touching gay-themed dramedy about love and loss.
A Lot or a Little?
What you will—and won't—find in this movie.
The main character overcomes many difficult challenges. He has closed his heart due to too much loss and hurt, but when he sees his father opening his heart in spite of many obstacles, he slowly learns to do the same.
Positive Role Models
Hal has learned to live his life to the fullest despite being diagnosed with cancer and having only a short time left. He feels no bitterness toward his previous life and keeps an open heart and an active mind, loving and helping others when he can and allowing others to help him. He doesn't try to pressure his son, but rather sets an example, and the son eventually follows.
Violence & Scariness
Images of the shooting of Harvey Milk when characters watch The Times of Harvey Milk on television. In flashback, a mother and a young son play "shooting" games. Vandalism (graffiti).
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Sex, Romance & Nudity
Lots of kissing, both between men and women and between men. The main character and his girlfriend sleep together; they're seen lying in bed. Viewers see Anna's breast. Some discussion about gay sex. Oliver and Anna peruse a Joy of Sex book in a bookstore, and some pictures are shown. Some naked paintings are on view.
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A recording of Allen Ginsberg reading his infamous poem Howl contains a line about getting "f--ked in the ass." "F--k" is also used several more times (particularly in one scene when fireworks are set off); "Jesus" and "oh my God" are used as exclamations.
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Drinking, Drugs & Smoking
Hal, diagnosed with cancer, takes several pills; in one scene, he's high on Prednisone. The main character drinks at a party but doesn't get drunk. Hal has a party in his hospital room, with alcohol served.
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Parents Need to Know
Parents need to know that this touching, mature indie dramedy -- based loosely on the experiences of writer/director Mike Mills -- revolves around a father coming out of the closet at the age of 75 and proceeding to live life as a gay man to the fullest despite being diagnosed with terminal cancer. The movie has some frank but not overt sexuality and sexual references; though sex is discussed, nudity is limited to one female breast. Language includes several uses of "f--k." Characters tend to drink fairly often, but not to drunkenness, and the father takes several prescription drugs for his illness (one sequence shows him high on Prednisone).
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Where to Watch
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What's the Story?
In 2003, Oliver (Ewan McGregor) meets a beautiful girl, Anna (Mélanie Laurent), at a costume party; he starts to fall for her, even though he's convinced that the relationship will never work. In flashback, viewers learn the story of Oliver's father, Hal (Christopher Plummer), who came out of the closet at age 75, began dating a younger man (Goran Visnjic), and was diagnosed with cancer. Both with his father and with Anna, in the past and in the present, Oliver must come to understand loss and accept love. Meanwhile, Hal's adorable dog, Arthur, comes under Oliver's care and "speaks" to Oliver with the aid of subtitles.
Is It Any Good?
BEGINNERS somehow manages to be playfully quirky, with hilariously deadpan dialogue and many cute moments. And at the same time, it's absolutely heartfelt, unafraid to delve into the aching emotional territories of love, loss, and broken hearts. Writer/director Mike Mills (Thumbsucker) based this movie on his own father's story, although it's clearly highly fictionalized, much to the movie's benefit.
A gimmick like the "talking" dog (he simply looks at another character and subtitles provide his dialogue) could have been annoying, but it actually strikes just the right tone, coming to the movie's rescue just before collapsing into sadness. The chemistry between characters is spot-on, and Mills isn't afraid to go in close. Beginners is a structured movie, but it allows for messiness within the structure; it's open-hearted but hilariously self-effacing.
Talk to Your Kids About ...
Families can talk about how the movie portrays father-son relationships. How does it compare to other father-son stories you've seen in the media?
The movie deals with sexual orientation without going into a lot of detail or showing a lot of nudity. Does that have any impact on the storytelling?
- In theaters: June 3, 2011
- On DVD or streaming: November 15, 2011
- Cast: Christopher Plummer, Ewan McGregor, Melanie Laurent
- Director: Mike Mills
- Studio: Focus Features
- Genre: Drama
- Run time: 105 minutes
- MPAA rating: R
- MPAA explanation: language and some sexual content
- Last updated: April 27, 2023
Did we miss something on diversity?
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Where to Watch
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