Directed by Mike Mills
Starring Ewan McGregor and Christopher Plummer (Rated R)
2 stars (out of 4)
(Reviewer's note) This film is Rated R for reasons unknown. There is a couple seconds of nipple in the film, but other than that its very tame. Its been said that the MPAA is prejudice with its ratings when it comes to gay and lesbian films. I completely agree. The MPAA has a history of double standards towards the LGBT community and this is a perfect example. If you want more examples please watch the film This Film is Not Yet Rated.
I had really high expectations for this film. The first feature film that Mike Mills directed was Thumbsucker featuring Keanu Reeves, Lou Pucci and a few other notables. It was a very good independent film which I have in my dvd collection. For his follow-up he directs Christopher Plummer and Ewan McGregor, which I think are two of the finest actors on the planet. So my expectations were probably a little higher than they should have been and I believe that kept me from enjoying this film as much as I could have.
The plot has a simple setup. Hal (Plummer) is Oliver's (McGregor) father. His mother died from cancer before the film begins but we see her in flashbacks played by Mary Page Keller. After the death of his mother Oliver has 3 big events occur simultaneously. His father tells him that he's gay and has been since he was thirteen. His father also finds out he has stage 4 lung cancer. This should be enough to fuel any plot, but Oliver also falls in love with a girl, of course.
So there are two ways this film could have played out; light and funny or dark and sad. Unfortunately it was more of the latter. There were some sincerely funny parts. A Jack Russel terrier supplies most of the comic relief, and I use the word relief quite literally.
I personally think that this film should have had more life. Hal is finally set free from a fake marriage only to find out he has a short time left to live. He makes the most of it visiting clubs and hooking up with a younger man, played by the excellent Goran Visnjic. The problem is the viewer doesn't get to experience any of this. We only hear Hal reference the good times he had with his gay friends. Occasionally there is a snapshot of him enjoying himself but its just not enough.
Instead we get to live vicariously through Oliver, which is no treat. Oliver is constantly questioning himself, even more so since he found out his parents were living a lie. He's found a young beautiful french girl (Melanie Laurent), but after he falls in love and invites her to move in he has a break down. Oliver has an intense fear of commitment thanks to his mom and dad. So he convinces himself that it will never work out between them and asks her to move out. Oliver getting back with his girl is as inevitable as Hal dying from his cancer.
The film uses a lot of gimmicks. Flashbacks and recollections are always preceded by a sort of visual time capsule. These mini-documentaries show us photos of people from the era that is about to be referenced in narration. At first this was nice, but it wears on the nerves after the first few times.
Another gimmick pertains to the dog (Arthur). When Arthur is staring intently at Oliver he occasionally speaks to him in subtitles. I actually liked this gimmick a lot. I think the dog is the only character who understands the situations. Arthur understands that the past is behind us. He lives only for attention and the occasional snausage. If Oliver was more like Arthur I think the movie would be much more entertaining. Also, Oliver would be a lot happier.
I'm not saying you should avoid this film. If the subject matter interests you or has personal meaning, go see it. There are far worse LGBT movies out there. Personally, I recommend watching A Single Man instead. It's a film that is much more tragic, yet more uplifiting.