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Dear Beginners,

You are a very sweet movie. Now when I say this I do not mean to sound condescending. It’s not like you spend your time tugging at heartstrings for no other reason than to try to elicit false emotion. Quite the contrary. You have an obvious affection for your characters, but also enough respect for both them and the audience that you do not jump through hoops to achieve inorganic emotional notes. A movie like you, dedicated to emotional truth and the creation of characters that one can become unreservedly attached to.

As a story about the dangers of allowing anything other than your own self to define the terms of your happiness, you ring with subtle truths that most movies would avoid. Your arc takes us through the fifties, when homosexuality was considered a disease, all the way to today, when Gen-X malaise has reached its peak and unhappy parents have thoroughly infected their now adult children’s sense of love and happiness. These are themes and story points that might otherwise cause a fillm to sink into maudlin self-consciousness, but you rise above these pitfalls through charm and pluck.

Much of this charm comes from your actors, who do a marvelous job of bringing your story and characters to life. As Oliver, a man approaching middle age who is struggling with his personal life following the death of his father, Ewan McGregor brings the pathos in a big way. His portrait of a depressed man, putting on a brave face and failing not for lack of trying, is humorous and yet touching in hts desperation. He so clearly wants to shake himself from his torpor, which is a change of pace for most independent fare.

Melanie Laurent, playing Oliver’s budding new girlfriend, Anna, is sweet, damaged, and yet never comes off as gimmicky or cliched. She is understanding and tolerant of all of Oliver’s flaws, mainly as a result of her own struggles. Yet they have open lines of communication and voice their concerns and self doubts, which allows their romance to wend its way through their emotional wreckage towards the sun.

The most obviously message-driven section of your narrative involves Oliver’s father, Hal, seen in flashbacks leading up to his death from cancer. Tired of being ‘theoretically’ gay following the death of his wife of forty-four years, Hal comes out and begins dating a younger man, exploring the club scene, and finally experiencing the happiness he was robbed of by the social structures of the 1950s. We see him and his wife then, as viewed through the eyes of a younger Oliver, affectionate but unhappy because though they care for one another marriage is not bringing allowing either of them what they really want.

Though these descriptions may come off as dower and depressing, you have an energy and wit and humor that bring them to life. As I said, McGregor gives Oliver a hang-dog charm that milks his every moment of bafflement for laughs, and his narration and drawings have the voice of a sardonic romantic, a discord which aids in the tone of fun and humor you strive for. His father’s acclimation to the world of gay dating also serves as a means for more laughs.

Your greatest asset though – and I mean no disrespect to any of your other attributes when I say this – is your casting of Arthur, Hal and Oliver’s dog. This is, without hyperbole, the greatest performance by an animal in any movie I have ever seen. His presence is a big part of what helps us understand other characters. He is a mirror on to which they can project their thoughts, feelings, and ideas. In this way, he becomes more than a gimmick. He becomes a full fledged foil and supporting character. His subtitles – textual expressions of his thoughts – are at first cute, but morph into a depth of commentary one would not expect.

I cannot really say enough about you. There is so much goodness and kindness both in you and your characters that our time together seemed to float by. You are a movie devoid of malice or enemies. A rarity in this world of fabricated conflict, you stand as a simple, affable treatise on happiness, sadness, and the importance of knowing you can always begin anew.

See you soon,

Brian J. Roan