WARNING: Politically correct, “sensitive” readers who are “offended” by everything should immediately fuck off.
I just finished watching Beginners on Blu-ray via Netflix. This movie was written and directed by one Mike Mills (best known previously for a movie called Thumbsucker, which I haven’t seen). It’s about a guy in his mid-30’s (Ewan McGregor) who finds out that his 78-year old father (Christopher Plummer) is gay, has a lover who’s much younger, and has been diagnosed with terminal cancer. He’d been married for decades, but apparently knew he was gay all along. McGregor’s character, who has struggled maintaining relationships, falls for a French girl (the lovely Melanie Laurent, best known to most of us as the vengeful Shosanna in Inglourious Basterds) and tries to not fuck that up while trying to take care of his sick father. The film was in theaters last summer, and is now finding new life because Plummer has been nominated at every big awards show for Best Supporting Actor. Not only has been nominated everywhere, but he’s pretty much been sweeping the trophies as well, winning the Golden Globe, SAG and BAFTA awards to go along with a bunch awards from various critics groups. You put all of this together, and he’s all but a lock to win the Oscar Sunday night.
I watched Beginners because I wanted to see it, and of course because of Plummer’s performance. I try to see every major awards contender because I do my own awards every year. I don’t typically enjoy watching a movie just to see one performance, because I’m not always interested in the actual movie that performance is a part of. In this case, I was interested in seeing the movie. I thought it was an interesting idea, and certainly a new take on the “gay” angle. It helped that Plummer is one of my favorite character actors, and to see him win an Oscar he deserved would make the movie geek in me proud. He certainly deserves his moment in the sun. Would you believe he’d never even been nominated for an Oscar before The Last Station just 2 years ago? Criminal. If nothing else, he deserved to be nominated in 1999 for his brilliant work in The Insider, when he played legendary 60 Minutes correspondent Mike Wallace. I digress.
So what did I think of his work in Beginners? Well, I’ll tell you. It was damned good. Great even. But it didn’t strike me as some monumental piece of acting that ought to be a no-brainer for the Supporting Actor Oscar. I could name at least 3 supporting male performances this year that I liked more. I’m certainly not gonna gripe that he’s been nominated across the board, but I don’t think the role was so great that he should be winning everything. For one, he’s not in the movie a whole lot, and the less you’re in a movie, the more impressive that role has to be in that limited screen time for awards consideration. I don’t think this character was particularly well-written. The Ewan McGregor and Melanie Laurent characters were better developed at the expense of Plummer’s. I’d even say that it seems like Beginners was trying to be two different movies; one where a dying old man tries to find and enjoy romance with a same sex partner for the first time, and another, more standard off-beat romance between the McGregor-Laurent characters. I think both of those individual movies would have been more satisfying than this one, which tries to combine both of them in a quick, 105-minute runtime.
Simply put, I don’t like gay characters whose entire existence is based around their sexual orientation. All their friends are gay, they live up to every gay stereotype, etc. etc. I prefer gay characters whose sexuality doesn’t define them (something we saw done well just last year in the wonderful The Kids Are All Right). I’m sad to say, for just about every moment Christopher Plummer’s character is onscreen in Beginners, he’s doing something gay-related. He’s wearing a neck scarf of the rainbow gay pride flag (obvious, much?). He’s in a vintage book store buying artsy gay books. He’s having a gay old time hanging out with his 10 new gay friends from their gay support group, every one of whom is super effeminately ubergay. There was no subtlety to it at all. The only thing missing was a gay marriage ceremony. Really, the only major character struggle I could find is that he’s getting really sick. So because he’s gay and dying this makes it one of the best performances of the year?
This got me to thinking about the other cliched roles that typically find their way into the Academy’s winners circle. It used to be all you had to do to win an Oscar was play a mentally retarded/disabled/handicapped “differently abled” “special” person, a crazy person, or someone who has been oppressed their entire life; a slave, for example. For years, it was a tried and true tradition in Hollywood. Now, with new, younger, super liberals being invited into the ranks of the Academy, the new thing to do if you want an award is gay. You play a struggling gay character in a drama and you are a lock for a nomination. If you play a struggling gay character who is sick or gets killed out of prejudice? Well, clear off your mantle, because there’s a bunch of shiny awards headed your way. Guaranteed. I think I might call this the Sean Penn Special from now on. He was nominated for Best Actor in 2002 for playing a slow person in I Am Sam, and ridiculously/unjustly beat Mickey Rourke‘s once-in-a-lifetime performance in The Wrestler in ’08 when he played an oppressed, murdered gay man in Milk, the modern liberal’s perfect awards-bait movie.
I hate when actors win Oscars because their character represents a trendy political viewpoint that Hollywood is passionate about (in this case, gay romance or gay rights, even though Beginners isn’t a gay rights movie like Milk was). I also hate when older actors win Oscars over better performances from younger actors just because they’ve been great over a long period of time (1999 was a shining example of this, when Michael Caine won Supporting Actor for The Cider Houes Rules over Tom Cruise‘s masterful performance in Magnolia AND over Michael Clarke Duncan in The Green Mile). The pundits call them de facto career achievement awards. Well, the Oscars have a career achievement award, so if they want to reward people for a long career of great work, they can and should fucking do that.
I guess what I’m trying to say is I’m disappointed. I’m disappointed in Mike Mills writing the character the way he did (even though Plummer’s character is based on his own father), and I’m disappointed in Hollywood (again) for voting politics in their major awards ceremonies. And I say that for a simple reason that is one man’s opinion; Plummer did not give the best supporting actor performance in 2011. Top 10? Hell yeah. Number 1? Hell no. It appears Christopher Plummer will win this Oscar for both reasons I despise actors winning awards. That saddens me, because I adore Plummer as an actor. I’m sad to say it, but he doesn’t deserve this one.
I haven’t finished deciding the Supporting Actor nominees on my own end-of-year awards list. Christopher Plummer is definitely in the running, but I can’t say for sure that he’ll wind up with one of those 5 nominations. I was hoping he would have, but this character was less interesting than I thought he would be. Either way, at least I can say I cast my vote for what I believe are actually the best performances, not the really good performance that also happens to fall right in line with my political views.
*Before we go, in case you hadn’t seen this; America showed off its ugly side again during and after the Grammys, when women of all ages conveniently forgot what a woman-hating, arrogant fucking turd Chris Brown is, and continued to blindly worship him on the internet. If you dare, check out Buzzfeed’s post 25 Extremely Upsetting Reactions to Chris Brown at the Grammys, which basically shows screenshots from Twitter and Facebook of a bunch of women who admit they’d gladly trade off being beaten within an inch of their life if he’d just touch them in a romantic way as well. I want to say these women are pathetic, but it’s really just frighteningly sad.
Someone named Roxane Gay then responded to those women with a very thoughtful, interesting piece on the blog The Rumpus. Check out Dear Young Ladies Who Love Chris Brown So Much They’d Let Him Beat Them.