Soundtrack Review: BEGINNERS

Allison Loring

by: Allison Loring
June 11th, 2011

Rating: 2/5

The presence of music in a film is never truly noticed until it is not there. The absence of sound can speak louder than any symphony orchestration and the beginning of BEGINNERS proves this fact by going without sound for its first few minutes. This trend of stripping the sound out of certain scenes runs throughout the film, causing the moments when music is featured to stand out. With a soundtrack featuring artists such as Mamie Smith, Josephine Baker, and Jelly Roll Morton, the music is tinged with hints of a bygone era and a time when every moment in a film did not require a touch of score to flesh it out.

Mike Mills’ story of a father and son, both on journeys to figure out their place in relationships with both each other and their respective love interests, hinge on moments where pauses and silences are just as important as the things that are said. As Hal (Christopher Plumber) and his son Oliver (Ewan McGregor) come to terms with Hal’s fatal cancer diagnosis the film could have become grim, but just as Hal refuses to stop living life, the music helped to keep us as the audience in that similar hopeful state of mind. Mills collaborated with Roger Neill, Dave Palmer, and Brian Reitzell to create a score to compliment the other artists on the soundtrack. Based around the sound of a Bluezner stand up piano, these pieces have a sense of whimsy that added levity to the overall tone of the film.

BEGINNERS is told over a disjointed timeline that jumps back and forth over different points in Oliver’s life, focusing mainly on his last few months with his father to the relationship he begins with actress Anna (Mélanie Laurent) after his father’s passing. Anna and Oliver are not the only romance featured, as we also see moments of recently out of the closet Hal with his boyfriend Andy (Goran Visnjic). The song selections give the overall feel of an old timey romance with moments of passion, honesty, and silliness that are highlighted with a jazz piece from the 1940s rather than a catchy of-the-moment pop song. Whether being gifted a caterpillar or roller-skating through a hotel lobby, these moments instantly feel like classics when paired with these less conventional music choices.

I found the highlight on the collection to be the appropriately titled “Beginners Theme Suite” as it encompasses the classic feel of the film with the sound of hope and whimsy Hal embodied and then become traits we hope are passed on to the ever-so-serious Oliver. The artists featured along with Neill, Palmer, and Reitzell work well together, but I would have preferred to hear more of the original music created for the film it was in the moments when this music was featured that really seemed to bring the scenes to a new level.

Although the limited use of music in the film made the moments when it was utilized more noteworthy and ear-catching, it also caused the film to be a bit of a choppy ride where the music would be absent from a scene and then suddenly strike up in the next. The select pieces chosen gave BEGINNERS and its soundtrack a unique sound, but it did little to further the emotional resonance of the film. On its own, the soundtrack feels like a sweet trip down memory lane and plays much more fluidly when each song is heard in succession of one another rather than when it was interspersed here or there throughout the film. Neill, Palmer, and Reitzell seemed to find a good rhythm together and while every scene does not need to have music, a more consistent use of their score throughout the film would have helped to add some emotional weight and fluidity to the story.

This soundtrack is available on Relativity Music Group.

1. "Stardust" - Hoagy Carmichael
2. "Everything's Made For Love" - Gene Austin
3. "Bach Suite" - Johan Sebastian Bach
4. "1955" - Roger Neill, Dave Palmer & Brian Reitzell
5. "Sweet Jazz Music" - Jelly Roll Morton
6. "That Da Da Strain" - Mamie Smith
7. "Mamanita" - Jelly Roll Morton
8. "Moon Waltz" - Roger Neill, Dave Palmer & Brian Reitzell
9. "Veronica's Blues" - Roger Neill, Dave Palmer & Brian Reitzell
10. "Breezin' Through The Breeze" - Josephine Baker
11. "Beginners Theme Suite" - Roger Neill, Dave Palmer & Brian Reitzell
12. "Buddy Bertrand's Blues" - Jelly Roll Morton

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