Beginners (Film) Review


Jill picked another Ewan McGregor movie for this week (with a fair amount of encouragement from me), so sue us.

We decided he was infinitely more appealing than Pinhead right now (and honestly, unless we go back to #3 in the series, I’m pretty sure the PH we know and love has been replaced by another actor and I don’t know how I feel about that).

So, Ewan. Here we are again, Sir and might I respectfully say to the room, this is a phase of McGregor I really enjoy. Stripey sweaters, older, slightly more debonair McGregor. Hummina.

Also, no swinging appendage this time which is bittersweet I suppose – like, this is a film that doesn’t need dick to give it worth, yet I kind of like seeing it in all it’s familiarity, you know?

*Spoilers*! As well as added asides from me (in (brackets) AND italics to show the seriousness of the situation).

Beginners (2010)

Director: Mike Mills
Stars: Ewan McGregor, Christopher Plummer, Mélanie Laurent, Goran Visnjic

IMDB Synopsis: A young man is rocked by two announcements from his elderly father: that he has terminal cancer, and that he has a young male lover.

My Review:

This film is an introspective meander through the recent and historic pasts of an emotionally distant father and son, as well as a glimpse into a future so far unmapped for our boy, Oliver (McG).

(This film is so sad I blubbed throughout, maybe because Christopher Plummer looks so much like my grandfather did. Sadly, our own Grampy never did come out towards the end or experience the joy of real love before he left us (that we know of anyway)).

Oliver is coming to terms with the passing of his absent for the majority of his childhood father, Hal. We flit back and forth on Hal and Oliver’s timelines so we meet Hal after he’s come out at the age of 75, following the passing of his wife Georgia (Mary Page Keller). He has a boyfriend called Andy and doesn’t insist on monogamy. He has a little dog called Arthur and likes parties. He’s also been diagnosed with cancer and things, frankly aren’t looking great.

An emoji or two wouldn’t have killed ya

In the present, Hal has passed on and Oliver has taken ownership of Arthur, who has separation anxiety. One evening Oliver goes to a house party with his friends (and Arthur), and meets the charming Anna. They share an adorable meet cute and the spark ignites.

(Mélanie Laurent makes me want to be so French it hurts. Everything about her seems so effortless and I’m in love with her.)

Oliver is sad though, mourning a father he only really got to know in the latter part of his life, sometimes with a side of TMI. There is real love between them but Oliver has trouble with his own relationships having witnessed the problems in his parents’ marriage (several decades of living a lie can do that to a couple). He’s scared shitless and seems aimless in other areas, though he’s trying to find his groove creatively.

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“Have you read this one? It’s called Marley & Me…”

Oliver is an illustrator with a unique style which he’s trying to evolve beyond album covers for obscure brands. He creates a series of drawings called The History of Sadness, to give you an idea of where his head’s at but it’s rejected by the band he’s done it for because he’s too much of a damn maverick and they don’t get it.

(I get it Oliver! HOLD ME!)

The Sads

Meanwhile, back in the past, Hal is finally truly happy and loving his New Gay Life, spearheading gay political letter writing groups, gay film clubs, the gay pride committee. He’s a big hit in the gay community but he’s also in denial as his illness gets worse, telling his friends he’s turned a corner health wise.

Oliver and Anna are slowly getting to know one another in 2003, though she’s an actress who travels from job to job so there are periods of absence (you don’t really notice them within the film). Honestly, not that much happens in this film, it’s very navel-gazey which is not necessarily a bad thing.

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Pretty sure this lady wants to be me too

Eventually Oliver’s fear of not feeling the way ‘he should’ when Anna moves in causes a big fight and Anna leaves. Arthur works on his neediness (kind of), Andy confronts Oliver about his ‘homophobia’ after Hal’s death and Oliver makes some political graffiti (not necessarily in that order).


Will Oliver fuck this all up? Will Anna come back? More importantly, will super-cute Arthur the Dog ever get over his grief?

All these questions will be answered by the end of the movie. You’ll also, I predict: cry a lot, hug the next person you see after you’re done and want to call your family immediately.

Political, innit

My Thoughts: 

I think you can get from the above that, although action is thin on the ground, this is an emotional piece of art that will stay with you long after Ewan has shuffled off the screen in his stripey jumper. It’s a thinker and in places it is heart-wrenchingly beautiful.

I found myself tearing up an awful lot and I think it’s okay for me to admit here in my safe place that that’s because losing my remaining parent is the stuff of nightmares. It actually makes me panic if I think about it, so I try not to. Beginners takes you to that place and forces you to stare at it head on, to consider the act of forgiveness and letting go, and taking the person before you for exactly who they are, warty/fucking fabulous bits and all.


McGregor is sexy as fuck throughout (good hair and nice eyes) and Melanie is effervescent but the film really belongs to Plummer, whose Hal is a joy to behold in every way. His childlike glee at finally getting to live his best life is making me form a lump in my throat as I type this.

The interspersed illustrations are also dead good.

My Rating: 4/5 – It’s all about the mood this film and it’ll cut you up, like a ferret with a flick knife. I’m telling you.

If this doesn’t get you thinking about your loved ones and your past/present relationships then you’ve a heart of granite. You’ve at least got to agree that Arthur the Jack Russell is one of the sweetest showbiz canines in a long while (that doesn’t get murdered horribly).

“Do you like my tight sweater?”

So, did my wonderful blog wife get The Sads watching this (in the good way) or did she get the sads (in the bad way)? Only one way to find out, you know the drill by now! ❤

Hector and the Search for Happiness (Film) Review


I found this film on Netflix not long ago and couldn’t contain my glee. Jillian felt the same when I mentioned it and emailed me to say she was watching Hot Fuzz (2007) in anticipation of this week’s pick. Call me shallow but I measure the essence of a person by how much they love Simon Pegg and I’m very sure Jillian is one of the greatest living people.

I love SP with the fire of a thousand suns. Spaced (1999) is my favourite TV show of all time (neck and neck with The Sopranos (1999-2007) if I’m honest), and I love the Cornetto Trilogy (yes, even The World’s End (2013)). So I had high hopes for this adventurous tale of a man looking for the secret to happiness (not ‘happyness’ à la Will and Jaden Smith).

Did it live up to my hopeful expectation? Do I still love the Pegg? Shall I save my Qs for the question section at the end of this review, as is traditional? I think I will, aye.

As always *Spoilers!*

Oh, and at this stage I think the theme is ‘whatever we fancy’, though this is quite firmly and unabashedly a romance, I would say. Lovely, lovely romance.

Hector and the Search for Happiness (2014)

Director: Peter Chelsom
Stars: Simon Pegg, Rosamund Pike, Toni Collette, Stellan Skarsgård

IMDB Synopsis: A psychiatrist searches the globe to find the secret of happiness.

My Review:

Hector has a very neat and nice life. Everything is just so. He has a beautiful girlfriend called Clara who is willing to facilitate this niceness (and pack him exquisitely tidy pack lunches, tie his ties, etc). He has a good job (psychiatrist) and everything’s just dandy, if a little uninspiring. But is he happy?

It seems like Hector has the blues and he isn’t sure why. He’s even eyeing his ‘maddest’ patient Roger with some envy all because he seems delighted with his own lot in life. (Roger thinks he’s a Ferarri, then a bingo caller).

One day, after being lap danced by a belly dancer in an Indian restaurant, he gets to thinking.

“You will go on a journey, and then when you get back, you’ll make Spaced series 3… oooooooooooo!”

This state of reflection is further exacerbated by a spiritual patient who predicts Hector will go on a long journey. We also learn here (I think) that Hector is an only child and something happened to his dog in his childhood, which would explain the dream he has at the beginning of this film, and the canine iconography throughout.

So one night Hector asks Clara if she’s happy and she spins immediately into suspicious territory, believing he wants to break up with her. This isn’t helped by the fact that she finds an old photograph of Hector with a woman called Agnes in his sock drawer, around the same time he tells her he’s going off in search of himself.

“I always wear my spectacles when I’m answering existential questions, obvs.”

Despite her fears, Clara tells Hector if he’s going to search for happiness he needs to go all in and gives him her blessing. She also packs him an adorable travel journal and urges him to fill its pages. Which he does, with aplomb.

Hector’s first stop is China and following a mix up with his seat, finds himself in Business Class next to Stellan Skarsgård‘s grouchy businessman, Edward. Despite a rocky start, by the time the two men touch down in Shanghai, they’re practically Bros. (SP is so adorable and goofy you’d have to have a heart of stone not to fall for him, is the message here).

“I loved you in Spaced.”

Edward thinks that you can buy happiness and luckily for him, he is dripping in moolah. He enjoys the finer things in life and takes Hector on a tour of his Shanghai, where the booze flows and dancers hula hoop on podiums in nightclubs (at least I know I could go down this road if all else fails). Is Edward right about being able to buy happiness though? His underlying sadness would suggest not.

In da club, Hector meets an incredibly beautiful student called Ying Li and is quick to snog her face off and take her back to his hotel room. However, while Ying is slipping into something more comfortable, Hector falls asleep. When he awakes in the middle of the night, he covers up her naked body and puts on his PJs. Respect, innit?

Later, over lunch, Hector is dismayed and betrayed to discover Ying Li has an agenda (and a pimp); just as he was beginning to wonder if happiness was about loving two women at once.

“Drugs, anyone?”

Onto Africa, where things take a dramatic turn. Hector meets a notorious drug lord (Jean Reno), makes friends with an entire community, is carjacked and kidnapped, tries sweet potato stew for the first time and helps some injured children. It is here that he learns the value of life and how precious it really is.

“Raise your drink if you love Simon Pegg!”

Meanwhile, via Skype, Clara is getting fed up with waiting for her man to return and makes it clear she just wants ‘to know’. Hector is being evasive which might have something to do with his next port of call: Los Angeles, home of Agnes, Hector’s former flame and possible love of his life. Cad.

On arrival, Hector meets up with Agnes and Imma leave that there because I don’t want to show my entire hand too soon, you know? It’s worth watching this film yourself to find out.

Along the way, though, I can reveal, Hector meets Professor Coreman (gorgeous Christopher Plummer, who reminds me of a nicer version of my grandfather), who has just published his own book on the pursuit of happiness. He’s a twinkly eyed soul and a bit of a character, but will he help Hector on the final leg of his Happiness Tour? Well, you know what time it is? Question time!

Will Hector ever be happy? Will he get the girl, and if so, will he chose the right one? Will he return to the life he had, to the organised prison of his own mind, or will he be free? Will he be more careful in the future when visiting war-torn parts of Africa, given that his friend (and guide) PICKED HIM UP FROM THE AIRPORT WITH AN ARMED BODYGUARD?

More importantly, will Simon Pegg ever do wrong in my eye? (Not a euphemism, although I probably wouldn’t say no).

My Thoughts:

I enjoyed this so much. It was fun and heartwarming and joyous – and I don’t even care if it was technically a good film or not. I loved it.

It put me in mind of another film I love, The Secret Life of Walter Mitty (2013) which was just as lovely. Call me predictable, but I’m all about the Underdog going off to find themselves and happiness is a topic I often think about myself.

We constantly strive to find what makes us happy and sometimes, it’s right there laid out before our unseeing eyes. We’re often encouraged to believe that joy may only be achievable through material possession and property, through financial security and success. But I guess it depends how you measure your own success, right?

SP is a dream, and he’s good Pegg in this. Even at his bluest, there are shades of humour in the character. He’s just an optimist on a mission and I love him for that. I also love the little animated parts throughout this movie which lend a childlike element to the film. I guess the overall message is, it’s okay to search for wonder like a child, but don’t let the past stunt your emotional growth. Or something.

Rosamund Pike needs to just stop being so pretty and give me her haircut already. Though, is it me or is it hard to watch her in her ‘good’ roles now that she’s nailed Gone Girl (2014)’s Amazing Amy so well? Hmmm.

Anyway, I could go on and on but I’m not going to. I’m going to give you my (wildly biased) rating and be on my way.

My Rating: 

5/5 – I don’t even care! I want to watch it every day until the end of time, much like I used to do with Footloose (1984).

What did the divine Jillian think though? I wanna know, don’t you? Check here shortly!