Mike Mills’s deeply personal film Beginners saunters throughout the kaleidoscopic first person narrative of Oliver (Ewan McGregor, The Ghost Writer), a solitary man shaken up by his dysfunctional yet beloved relationship with his father Hal (Christopher Plummer, The Last Station) and the woman who brings the relevance of romantic love back into his life, Anna (Melanie Laurent, Inglorious Basterds). Although the earnest yet risible screenplay usually prevents a filmic humdrum, the soundtrack to Beginners also contributes to this effort thanks to fresh music supervision by Robin Urbang and scoring by Brian Reitzell, Dave Palmer and Roger Neill. Their contributions highlight the solo piano as they take a less is more approach to the original motion picture soundtrack.
The soundtrack sets the narrative in motion with “Beginners Theme Suite,” an instrumental with a nurturing piano riff; the score paints the film with simplicity while coating Oliver’s mental landscape with the ironic perceptions that exist in his 1955 childhood and his present, 2003. A minute of a cheerful solo piano evolves into a slow, melancholy melody. An interesting aspect of this piece is the way in which it steers away from forced progression; the music notes rather lean into one another, branching into a different emotional realm while admiring the art of transition. Just as Oliver branches into an emotional acuity due to many forms of loss, an earnest trumpet solo sets into the piece. The instrumental, however, takes a slightly optimistic turn with high-pitched piano notes sprinkled throughout somber tones eventually ending with its beginning content melodies. Brian Reitzell, Dave Palmer and Roger Neill accomplish a difficult task in scoring Beginners; they spark intensity by means of simplicity and thereby imbue the flick with the genes that make it such a heartfelt motion picture.
Music supervisor Robin Urbang brings wit and gaiety to Beginners. The modern Indie flick reinvigorates classics, continuously reviving the past, which is a recurring theme in the film. The luminary ragtime pianist Jelly Roll Morton gives Beginners that bright spin of energy. Morton gives life to those special characters that left a mark on Oliver’s telling heart. In particular, “Mamanita” describes the quirky character of Oliver’s mother circa 1955, as she uses the Santa Barbara Museum of Art as a playground to make up for her lackluster marriage. “Bach Suite” is a sorrowful yet necessary track to reveal how father and son suffer in the face of a brutal illness. The thick layers of the resonant trumpet solo truly illustrate the pain that settles into each character through various dramatic developments. On a more cheerful note, the track “Everything’s Made for Love” by Gene Austin is a nice backdrop for the love narrative between Oliver and Anna, as the characters tip toe through the skeptic and romantic tendencies. Hoagy Carmichael’s “Stardust” is most iconic for Beginners, as it captured audiences early on in the film’s trailer and opened the movie with kindred spirits to musical expectations. Urbang inspires the compilation and thereby the film with throwbacks to a past filled with music that you can’t help but snap your fingers to.
The original motion picture soundtrack for Beginners certainly creates an ambience of curiosity, the feeling of discovery dusty treasures from an old attic. My only critique for the film lies in the lack of modern songs coated in the film’s quirky character to solidify the change in time throughout the movie. This loyalty to nostalgia marks the soundtrack as a time capsule brimming with love and loss. Thecompilation portrays nice music direction that incorporates just enough style and wit into Mike Mills’s comic drama.
- Megan Acheampong