Nowhere has that sentiment been more obvious than at the multiplex, where a smattering of offerings have been pretty solid (Bridesmaids, Fast Five, Kung Fu Panda 2, Super 8, X-Men: First Class) and a smorgasbord have been solidly (if not heinously) flawed (Bad Teacher, Cars 2, Green Lantern, The Hangover Part II, Larry Crowne, Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides, Thor and Transformers: Dark of the Moon, to the pinpoint the most obvious culprits).
On the plus side, there's been a nice bounty of options for fans of more discerning, largely CGI-free fare (Bill Cunningham New York, Buck, Cave of Forgotten Dreams, The Double Hour, Everything Must Go, Jane Eyre, Incendies, Meek's Cutoff, Midnight in Paris, Potiche and Tree of Life). And now comes Mike Mills' Beginners, an elegant, formally deft drama about a lonely 38-year-old graphic designer (Ewan McGregor) whose life turns after the experience of caring for his elderly, cancer-stricken father (a stellar Christopher Plummer), who unabashedly comes out as gay after his wife of 44 years dies. Beginners is as truthful and oddly penetrating as Mills' last look at the difficulties of modern living — his 2005 debut feature Thumbsucker — but it also comes off as more personally invested — McGregor's character is an obvious stand-in for Mills, a successful graphic artist turned filmmaker whose own father came out as gay at age 75.
Besides being one of the most satisfying films of the year so far, Beginners also features the best performance by a dog since at least The Lady and the Tramp. Seriously. I was moved. Of course, the alluring presence of French actress Melanie Laurent (best known from Quentin Tarantino's Inglourious Basterds) as McGregor's love interest is pretty moving, too.
BEGINNERS — Mike Mills' Beginners has a wonderfully collagist feel with its overlapping time frames, photo montages of archival art and advertisements and satiny layering of details that amass to make a very full-feeling portrait of a wayward 38-year-old graphic designer (Ewan McGregor) and his recently deceased father (Christopher Plummer). (Read full review here.) (Opens today at Esquire Theatre.) — Kimberley Jones (Rated R.) Grade: A
HORRIBLE BOSSES — An impressive cast (Jennifer Aniston, Jason Bateman, Charlie Day, Colin Farrell, Jamie Foxx, Kevin Spacey, Donald Sutherland and Jason Sudeikis) appears in this comedy from director Seth Gordon (Four Christmases) about, well, horrible bosses. (Opens wide today.) — Jason Gargano (Rated R.) Review coming soon.
SUBMARINE — Newcomer Craig Roberts takes at least a pound and a half of inspiration from Bud Cort's romantically inclined misfit in Harold and Maude for his defiantly humorous portrayal of the 15-year-old Oliver Tate. However derivative of Catcher in the Rye Joe Dunthorne's source novel might be, screenwriter/director Richard Ayoade spins it into cinematic gold. (Read full review here.) (Opens today at Esquire Theatre.) — Cole Smithey (Rated R.) Grade: A-
ZOOKEEPER — Kevin James tries to extend his inexplicable popularity as a comedic leading man, this time as a lonely zookeeper who gets love advice from the animals (apparently they can talk) under his care. The curious supporting cast includes Rosario Dawson, Cher, Nick Nolte, Adam Sandler and Sylvester Stallone, the latter four of whom voice some of the animals. Frank Coraci directs. (Opens wide today.) — JG (Rated PG-13.) Review coming soon.