I have a love/hate relationship with Zooey Deschanel (Bear with me, I promise it will makes sense.). She is just too….perfect. Perky, adorable (or adorkable) and with a killer closet (I swear she buys all the size 2 Modcloth dresses), Zooey Deschanel is so annoyingly perfect, you sometimes want to punch her in the face. However, her shit is good, maybe not Oscar-worthy but New Girl is pretty bearable and sometimes even enjoyable. The girl can act, and though she may seem like a product of hipster-Urban-Outfitters-Belle-and-Sebastian-fandom consumerism, her product is still buyable because it’s good. Beginners, however, is a product of wannabe hipsterism, and though quirky and colorful like Deschanel, is vast and vain.
Beginners follows the almost mid-life crisis of a handsome, successful and well-dressed Oliver (of course his name is Oliver) who though looks desirable in the hip Los Angeles setting, is lonely. Mopey, quiet and an outsider, Oliver must now balance out some even more uncertainties when his cancer-diagnosed father Hal (Christopher Plummer) comes out as a gay man. Now the many flashbacks of his beautiful mother and her strange behavior dissolves into what Oliver believes to be a life of lies. How could you be gay, dad? So now that mom’s dead, you think you can just prance around in flowy scarves at LGBT parades with your much younger foreign freeloading boyfriend? Ahem, what the hell?
The film folds and unfolds like one of those paper fortune tellers- Back and forth between possibilities, flashbacks and Oliver’s new romance with a beautiful French actress Anna (Melanie Laurent). They meet at a cute costume party, and suck up each other’s cuteness, wealth, and “loneliness.” They’re beautiful and alone, and they are also incredibly indecisive. Their “are they, aren’t they” romance makes for some bogus space fillers, and towards the conclusion of the film I could not help but believe that they were either a. Perfect for each other cause they are equally lame, or b. Not perfect each other cause they are equally lame. You decide.
Oliver uses his new relationship with Anna as a means of escape from the drama of his dad now being gay; Hal is just trying to live the life he would have wanted to live before he dies. Though Oliver is supportive and takes care of his dying father, you can’t help but sense that Oliver blames his father for the unhappy marriage he had to witness when he was a kid. His mother seemed a bit of a nut case, or free spirited as the Manic Pixie Dream Girls would coin. Some of his mother’s most questionable episodes include being condescending at museums, allowing a kid Oliver to drive her around, and brushing off her husband’s lack of sexual intimacy. It is quite sad, but the more you watch the more you realize that Oliver’s mother chose to be that way, just like his father chose to be in the closet for 75 years, and just like Oliver chooses to be a sad mess.
What makes Beginners memorable though is its many Tumblr-worthy quotes and scenes. The film is adorable; even Oliver’s depressing album cover he makes to an unimpressed alternative band is worthy of some Etsy love. The only thing that isn’t trying too hard are quirky quotes like “Why are you at a party if you’re sad,” however; the rest of the film sadly is trying too hard. There is no real story here, and honestly I would have rather seen more about Hal’s struggle as a newly outed older man, not scenes of Anna and Oliver silently looking at each other in yet another fancy hotel. Also, taking Anna to a taco truck is just plain tacky; the juxtaposition of middle-class stature and cheap Mexican eatery is not cool, its just tongue-in-cheek.
Beginners was a hit with critics everywhere, even going as much as being awarded in film festivals. My guess? The competition wasn’t that good that particular year. Yeah, I know I’m being harsh but honestly, do you just not think “Coachella trust funder trying to make a film” when you see this? Films like these are the problem in independent film; they try too much to meet some indie formula: cute girl, lots of silence, minor characters with bigger problems, well-off careers, note-worthy quotes and wardrobes. It’s all there.
Maybe you’ll enjoy Beginners more than I did, but even so, Beginners will kinda go down in history as that-indie-movie-on-Netflix. It’s there for you to watch once and be randomly reminded of when you run into an Anna notebook GIF online. Beginners won’t ever have Zooey Deschanel stature, and I guess that makes it okay to exist in the world.