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Melanie Laurent and Ewan McGregor in Beginners
It must have been almost 20 years ago that my mom told me she was gay. I was home from college on one break or another, and we were driving along one of southeastern Massachusetts' poorly maintained highways.
"I can't believe I'm telling you this right now," she said, struck not so much by the import of what she was about to say—it was, I think she knew, a moment I'd long expected—but by our decidedly quotidian surroundings, near the site of the old Kerr Mill outlet where our family had always bought wallpaper.
We laughed, and cried, and carried on. But if it was expected, even welcome, news, it was still earthshaking in its own way. In the years since, much of her life has developed in profoundly different ways than it might have otherwise, and it's been one of the great pleasures in my life to be able to witness all that was born of her courage that day.
In Beginners, opening July 15 at Pleasant Street Theater, director Mike Mills (Thumbsucker) tells a similar story inspired by his own father's coming out at age 75, a revelation preceded by 45 years of marriage and followed by an ecstatic five years of full-throttle living—and one much younger boyfriend played here by ER's Goran Visnjic—before his death from cancer.
Mills has scored a top-shelf team of actors to help tell his story, including screen legend Christopher Plummer as Hal Fields, the stand-in for the elder Mills. Ewan McGregor plays his son Oliver, an artist who finds himself at first shocked and then inspired by his father's example. (Presumably, one of the benefits of directing your own story is landing heartthrob Scottish actors to play your part.) It's a lesson put to the test when he meets Anna (M?lanie Laurent of Inglourious Basterds) in the months following his father's death.
As the film moves between three periods of Oliver's life, we come to understand some of the reticence that marks his art, the gnawing feeling that something is being held back. Meeting Anna sparks a new openness in Oliver; his choice to accept it and embrace life as fully as his father did—or not—will be his inheritance.
Also this week: Do you like one-man bands? Not the new-fangled "guy with a laptop on stage" type, but the old-fashioned cymbals-on-the-knees kind of thing. How about Cockney accents and song-and-dance numbers? Would you say that they're... supercalifragilisticexpialidocious?
If so, then this is your weekend, because Pothole Pictures is putting on a Mary Poppins Sing Along up at Shelburne Falls' Memorial Hall on Friday and Saturday nights at 7 p.m. (and at a 1 p.m. matinee on Saturday). A favorite of adults and kids alike, the 1964 Julie Andrews/Dick Van Dyke musical is a testament to the power of imagination and the strength that comes from sticking to your dreams. It's also, simply, a heck of a lot of fun in a way many "kids' movies" aren't anymore: grown-up and grungy (Van Dyke's Bert is a chimney sweep, after all) instead of antiseptic and watered down.
As for the sing-along portion: the special presentation includes subtitled song lyrics on screen, with the entire crowd encouraged to belt it out; this is not the screening to attend if you're writing a thesis on English accents in Disney films, but it will be fun. As usual with Pothole Pictures shows, the movie will be preceded by live music on the Memorial Hall stage.
Meanwhile in Hadley, the new—and final, if you can believe it—Harry Potter film opens at Cinemark in a series of midnight shows. However, all five screenings (including a special double feature that borders on Wagnerian proportions) are currently sold out; if you have your heart set on an opening day peek at the end of an era, you might want to get your sleeping bag ready. Goodus Luckius.
Jack Brown can be reached at email@example.com.