Beginners: This is What Love Feels Like (2011)

Posted: March 29, 2012 in Comedy, Drama, Romance

Oliver Fields grew up with a confusing childhood. Although it was not until he became an adult that his father came out to him, he experienced an awkward childhood with parents that appeared to both love each other and be somewhat distant. While he watched his father become more outgoing and adventurous after the passing of his mother, he also struggled as his father’s health deteriorated. After cleaning out his father’s home, Oliver gets dragged to a costume party by his friends and meet a girl, Anna. She immediately sees into his sad eyes and the pair feel an instant connection. As they try to navigate their new relationship, Oliver’s experiences with his parents, particularly his father’s identity, play into his successes and challenges in their continue exploration of their romance.

Starring: Ewan McGregor (Oliver Fields), Christopher Plummer (Hal Fields), Melanie Laurent (Anna), Goran Visnjic (Andy), Kai Lennox (Elliot), Mary Page Keller (Georgia), Melissa Tang (Liz)

Finally honored with an Academy Award, Christopher Plummer steals the scene in his role as he shows a man invigorated by a new sense of freedom tied into his sexual orientation identity. While he may project some of the more effeminate behaviors commonly attributed to gay men, he represents a man who had reach a level of integration of his sexual orientation identity with his overall identity. As his son, Ewan McGregor has an almost consistent state of depression from start to finish. There seems to be little alteration of his personality, other than the potentially life-changing positive experiences associated with his time with a new woman. As his love interest, Melanie Laurent has a fun creativity to her character, often doing the unconventional to get a reaction from McGregor. Laurent also has several moments that dive deeper into the backstory of her character, showing more of an element of pain in contrast to her quirkier moments. Goran Visnjic, best known for his role on ER, portrays a strongly childlike personality in his relationship with Plummer, but also adds an interesting element with his questions of McGregor’s discomfort in front of his character.


Mike Mills’s film may be a little tough to decipher in terms of its focus, but he uses a combination of flashbacks to slowly bring light to the challenges of Oliver Fields and his ability to openly love and commit to a woman. With his childhood consisting of great individual relationships with his parents but observations of their distance with each other, he shows an inability to connect with women beyond a certain point in his past relationships. Meeting Anna felt different, as she brought out a more adventurous side to him which was similar to small ways to how his father changed when he openly announced that he was gay. He had a newfound energy and excited, particularly when he knew he was going to spend time with her. As the relationship became more serious and her family drama started to surface, he began to feel uneasy about the level of commit she exhibited but was also surprised by her own choice to begin distancing herself.


While the romance theme between Oliver and Anna was significant to the story, there were some interesting scenes that involved the dynamics of sexual identity. When Hal Fields explained the reasons behind knowing he was gay and still marrying Georgia, it brought up but did not go into detail about the challenges gay men endured prior to the liberation movement about being open and honest about their identities. Hal explained that he cared strongly for his Georgia and she was aware of his identity, but there was still a concealing of who he really was. Andy (Visnjic) also has a distrust of Oliver’s comfort with gay men. While the news from his father was a surprise and took him some time to comprehend, the challenge was actually more about Hal’s greater love for Andy than his own son. All of these scenes are projected through flashbacks in a way to slowly reveal the background for Oliver’s romantic troubles and his quirks (which are mostly associated with his time with his mother when he was a child).

The film has a rather consistent tone of sadness with brief moments of joy, but the acting is what makes this an interesting story.

Dan’s Rating: 3.5/5


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