‘Beginners’ Review: The Manic Pixie Dream Girl strikes againPosted: July 17, 2011
Oh, the manic pixie dream girl. While I’m not terribly fond of the exact phrasing of the term, it’s been in circulation ever since A.V. Club’s Nathan Rabin employed it in his review of the Orlando Bloom- vehicle- that- was, Elizabethtown. So who am I to change it? According to Rabin, the manic pixie dream girl “exists solely in the fevered imaginations of sensitive writer-directors to teach broodingly soulful young men to embrace life and its infinite mysteries and adventures.”
You’ve seen her in many an indie film. Last year’s summer hit, (500) Days of Summer, Almost Famous, Gardenstate (in fact, pretty much every indie movie Natalie Portman has ever made has her in the MPDG role) etc…and now we may add to this list, Beginners, written and directed by Mike Mills and starring Ewan McGregor, Christopher Plummer and Melanie Laurent (our French MPDG).
It’s really a shame that Beginnners, which has gotten a lot of rave reviews and is actually a good movie, gets slated in with this batch of high-end mediocrity. But Mills’ attempts to conventionalize his very unconventional story (his real life dad came out at 75 after the death of his wife, Mills’ mother, and lived a full, gay life until he died of terminal cancer), weaken what would have been a great, thoughtful movie.
Melanie Laurent serves no purpose other than to smile mischievously at the camera, her large greyish-blue eyes twinkling cryptically. She and Ewan McGregor meet in a very predictable, idiosyncratic fashion. She can’t talk when they first meet which, incidentally, serves as a great metaphor for her role in the movie– a main character with no context or background. She has one of the vague jobs suitable for this kind of indie– an actress with no noticeable roles or commercial spots acquired. We never actually see her acting. She flits from hotel room to hotel room, (no reasoning as to how she gets the money to do so). Mills attempts to give her some depth with something about a suicidal father and vague descriptions of a childhood but it’s unclear and not well-thought out.
As Rabin states in his seminal work (haha) on the MDPG character, the audience either loves her or hates her. There’s no inbetween. Personally, I wasn’t a fan of Laurent. I’d seen Anna (her name in the movie) a million times in other indie films and I thought Ewan McGregor and his onscreen father (a delightful Christopher Plummer) were a lot more interesting. I didn’t care to watch McGregor and Laurent stare at each other before kissing for the umpteenth time. I didn’t want to hear her gravely French accent or see the side of her boobs as she wanders out of bed in the middle of the night. Mills’ movie was already rich with workable material, and the whole underdeveloped love story was kind of like putting more tomato in a spicy stew because you think your dinner guests won’t be able to handle it, when actually, they can but now all they can taste is bland tomatoes instead of the right, winning combination of spicy deliciousness.