Christopher Plummer shines in father-son film: ‘Beginners’

By Eleanor Ringel Cater

Time to trash all the Captain von Trapp jokes.

And I’m not just talking about movie lovers. I’m talking to YOU
Christopher Plummer. Yes, YOU, who once said that acting with your “The Sound of Music” co-star, Julie Andrews, was like “acting with a Hallmark Card.”

And yet, she got an Oscar and you…?

Actually, Plummer, now 80, has long since apologized for dumping on the movie that made him famous world-wide. But the proof, as we crix like to say, is in the acting.

And Lord, can Plummer act.

Actually, many of us have known that for a while. Say, anyone who caught him on-stage in ”The Royal Hunt of the Sun” or saw unsung sleepers like a marvelous little mystery-thriller from the late ‘70s called “The Silent Partner.” Or his Oscar-nominated turn as Leo Tolstoy in “The Last Station.” Or his Kipling in “The Man Who Would Be King.” Or as Mike Wallace in “The Insider.”

But let’s start at the very beginning. A VERY good place to start.

Uh Oh. Sorry. Succombed to a slight bout of “Sound of Music-itis.”

What I meant is, let’s continue… with his new movie, “Beginners’,” co-starring Ewan McGregor.

Quick plot summary: Plummer plays McGregor’s father who, after his wife’s death, comes out at age 75. And what a gorgeous older guy Plummer makes. Not fey (not that there’s anything wrong with that…), not prancing (not that there’s …), not “La Cage a Folles’-ish (not that…).

He is simply incredibly credible as a handsome man in his mid-70s who’s looking for love. And sex. Preferably both.

McGregor, a reclusive, overly-analytical illustrator, has enough love life problems of his own. Dad announcing he’s gay so late in life is just one more blip on a screen that’s otherwise crowded with failed relationships.

Then one night McGregor goes to a costume party and meets enchantment in a Charlie Chaplin outfit. She’s Melanie Laurent (she blew up Hitler in “Inglourious Basterds”), an actress whose on-the-road profession has protected her from real commitment.

Apparently, some of this is autobiographical, though I’m not sure writer/director Mike Mills’ ever had a Jack Russell who could talk in subtitles (precariously twee, I know, but the movie is so good it can handle it).

Further, Mills masters a difficult balancing act, putting us in that unsettling place where we’re not sure when the sucker-punch will come. So you’re a little worried even as you’re laughing.

He’s also had the very good sense to cast actors who can handle almost anything. McGregor and Laurent are lovely as an on-again/off-again couple, with a touch of “Benny and Joon” (early Johnny Depp) here and there.

But Plummer will take your breath away. As a man who learns it’s never to late to fall in love (or lust), he may have wrapped up a best supporting Oscar.

Eleanor Ringel, Movie Critic, was the film critic for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution for almost 30 years. She was nominated multiple times for a Pulitzer Prize. She won the Best of Cox Critic, IMAGE Film & Video and Women In Film awards. An Atlanta native, she graduated from Westminster and Brown University. She was the critic on WXIA’s Noonday, a member of Entertainment Weekly's Critics Grid and wrote TV Guide’s movie/DVD. She is member of the National Society of Film Critics and currently talks about movies on WMLB and writes the Time Out column for the Atlanta Business Chronicle.

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