This evening Susan and I watched Beginners, which we both agreed was one of the best movies either of us have seen in a while.
It also encapsulates a certain quality I’ve been thinking about a lot recently, which I can only describe as an unapologetic pursuit of a unique vision. It’s very easy for idiosyncratic endeavors to come off as too self-consciously “quirky” (Miranda July, Beginners‘ director Mike Mills’ wife, is often unfairly criticized for this), and there are definitely times when the unusual is deployed in a disingenuous, “gimmicky” way. But one of the things that I respect most is when an author/artist/filmmaker just goes for it and doesn’t waste time explaining or rationalizing or couching their work in the framework of the ordinary.
This is not to say that I’m advocating pure nonsense (although I do love nonsense). But I do get sick of stories that waste time trying to accurately reproduce reality, rather than trying instead to situate their work in specific context of their own.
One of the really remarkable things about Beginners is that there’s no time wasted on small talk or ordinary social courtesies. When Anna and Oliver first meet, she literally cannot engage in those pointless pleasantries because she has laryngitis. One is aware that those expected observances must be happening, to some extent, but instead of forcing characters to hash out their respective life stories over dinner or a stroll through the park (as they would in a romantic comedy, and as many people actually seem to attempt to do on real-life dates), that information is exchanged through telling action, or delivered in novel ways that shed light on the individual characters.
The result is a film that feels highly fantastical, even though it is, ultimately, about a very ordinary subject. The exchanges between characters, in addition to being nuanced and beautiful, have been set free of the expected framework of ordinary social interaction, which leaves them free to tell us something unique and particular about these people and their experiences.
All of which is to say that I tend to think good art is expressionistic rather than documentary. Not that truth and reality aren’t important, but accurately recording facts does not necessarily yield either of those results.