Wednesday, September 28, 2011


Very occasionally when I receive a free screening pass it works out that for whatever reason, I’ve gathered zero background information about the film. I don’t know who’s in it, what it’s about, where it was made, and can only gather a rough indication of genre from the billing poster as I romp toward the candy bar. I had no idea about Higher Ground before I saw it, and thank goodness for that. Not only would I have ummed and ahhed about even going, but I would not have sat through it with such patience. Imagine my surprise at the provocative opening scene, a shot of a bearded, kaftan-clad, cross-draped, possible commune-member standing atop a rocky woodland gully, screaming elatedly about how Jesus saved him from a life of sin with all of the ‘ye shall’s and ‘hath unto’s left in. Odd as it sounds, it was the perfect start. I was immediately gripping the dashboard, nose pressed to the windscreen trying to see what lay ahead.

Higher Ground is a faith film. A serious faith film. Set in the 1970’s, Vera Farmiga plays the complex and genuine Corinne, a demure middle-American housewife who found God as a teenage mother in a band tour bus accident. Corinne’s life becomes intertwined with an insular but familial prayer group comprised of young couples whose overt, intense, often hammy displays of faith make Corinne sensitive to her own conviction. Just as her salvation from the bus accident generated her belief in the first place, it’s life’s misfortunes that wrestle it from her later, as her marriage sours, her best friend experiences a tragic change of health and the church stifles her leadership potential because she is a woman. Corinne’s desire for a grand, intimate connection to God and indeed her thoughtfulness and introspection tug constantly at her hem, reminding her that her brethren are not the only believers in the world, and certainly might not have all the answers. 

The film is based on the memoirs of Carolyn S. Briggs, entitled This Dark World. This is iffy source material to begin with because lifelong inner spiritual struggle has no narrative arc or indeed climax. On top of that, the memoir itself seems to be the only notable achievement elevating Briggs’ life out of total obscurity. It was a maze of dead-ends; characters who disappeared before contributing to the plot, dialogue and conflicts that led nowhere, a lot of unfinished sentences. The integrity of this story wouldn’t have suffered from a bit of clever excision.  

I should perhaps preface my dialogue here by noting that all ‘jesus movies’ evoke in me a very strong fight or flight response. Being of no particular faith myself I feel an acute need to rapidly identify what a religious movie wants to do to me. Is it condoning or condemning religious dogma, poking fun at radical groups, evangelising or attempting to advocate a personal, inner spirituality? I want to know this so that I can resist persuasion rather than go with the flow. I was really tested to do that with Higher Ground. I struggled to tell if it was preaching or parodying the believers that made up its centrepiece.  

That Corinne truly doesn’t know what to think or feel about her faith really determines the tone of the film. If she’s in doubt, the film satirises her church and if she’s assured the scenes become flooded with angelic white light, delicate hymns play and Corinne wears Grecian chiffon dresses. When her trust in pastor Liam (Sean Mahon) falters, the script delivers him lines that render him foolish. Corinne makes an issue of women being sexually unsatisfied, but then is portrayed as uninterested in intimacy. Credence is given to speaking in tongues and signs from above, but equally the devil (not the man) is held responsible for domestic violence. In short, there is an abundance of mixed messages here. Whilst it’s hard to tell if the film’s uncertainty is careful genius or merely the uncontrolled flapping back and forth of a beached fish, Higher Ground is undeniably unusual.

Higher Ground is chronological. It feels like watching a memoir. Child actors play Ethan and Corinne as youngsters and adolescents. Whilst this first chapter explains the expectations characters have later in the film, it’s a dull, disjointed collection of scenes, and Taissa Farmiga (daughter to Vera) as young Corinne is utterly expressionless. I suspect this is due to the hazy nature of memory, that when Briggs was writing her life story, it was harder to recall her moods and thoughts as a youth than as an adult. She’s left her own childhood character underdeveloped as though she was merely a spectator to her own life.

There is no doubt that Farmiga, as both lead and director, has crafted a really majestic and believable performance. Farmiga has made the Corinne character the perfect protagonist – that is, a vessel or a lens with whom the audience sympathises and recognises themselves in. I suspect that this universality will allow audiences of various convictions to be venerated by her character, to walk away feeling affirmed in whatever they do or don’t believe in. Indeed, an older gentleman behind me sweetly sung along to the baptism hymn played over the end credits without any sense of bashfulness. I’m sure he experienced Higher Ground as a devotional film, and expected we were all harmonising along with him in the theatre, which his voice morphed momentarily into a chapel.

There is a great deal of beauty to Higher Ground. A reprieve is made of Corinne’s church group meetings, in which lovely acoustic hymns are played and members sway lazily with eyes drifting shut as they harmonise along. The era is reproduced with delicacy. After all, the Avant Garde fashion and culture of the 1970s could only quietly penetrate the lives of such a conservative flock. Nonetheless, there’s a soft intrusion of florals, beards, bangles, milkmaid tops, Fawcett bangs and interiors designed with every shade of brown and peach in mind.

In the end, perhaps at the behest of Corinne’s questioning nature, I have to question the existence of this film. I feel like throwing my hands up and asking ‘who is it for?’ Surely true stories that are made into films must be remarkable, inspiring or capture some kind of cultural idiom. Yet the search for conviction is not uncommon amongst Westerners, certainly those enduring crises or dissatisfaction. Higher Ground isn’t a remarkable story, and for those who might identify with it, there is no offer of solace or moral conclusion. It contains no grand miracles, supernatural appearances or epiphanies. It’s a slice of life, but isn’t a slice from the life of a believer or an atheist. I doubt it’s provocative enough to make any audience member question their own convictions, and even if it was, what end would that serve? What kind of person would make a film about wanting to believe but not knowing how? The more I cycle through these possibilities the more it seems like Higher Ground is simply a film about a strong, fraught woman, made for the purposes of dramatic entertainment. But that can’t be right, can it? A religious film with no agenda? But it is. When you think about it, what is more secular than biography – than an account of past facts, a history of empirical life in the shadow of heaven, regardless of how preoccupied we are by worship.

Yet, I am none the wiser for it.



Cal Weaver (Steve Carrell) and his high school sweetheart wife Emily (Julianne Moore) have fallen into the proverbial romantic rut. They’re getting divorced and Cal’s quietly given up, like a spaniel in the rain, all puppy eyes and stooped shoulders. Then he meets Jacob, played by the sponge-worthy Ryan Gosling, a guy who looks like he’s hopped out of a private helicopter, materialised from the cover of Esquire or GQ or is on Her Majesty’s secret service. This serial womaniser performs a makeover on Cal that rivals any episode of Queer Eye for the Straight Guy. Meanwhile Emily is courting smooth-talking accountant David Lindhagen (Kevin Bacon), pubescent son Robbie (Jonah Bobo) is lusting after doe-eyed babysitter Jessica (Analeigh Tipton, ex-America’s Next Top Model finalist) who is in turn nursing an unsettling crush on Cal. In parallel we also get to know Hannah (Emma Stone), who is among the only eligible women to have spurned Jacob as his favourite watering hole/prowling ground.

Crazy, Stupid, Love is one of those merciful exceptions to the paltry formulas of romantic comedy, rather resembling a light-hearted pantomime. It’s melodramatic; a number of interwoven intrigues based on mistaken identity and rumour erupt into extravagant set piece melees. The script is written so that its situations are of Meet the Parents-calibre surrealism, yet the family reacts in just the kind of messy, inelegant manner that one might relate to ‘real life’.

A number of genre clichés are embedded into the film just so that directors Ficarra and Requa (who once upon a Billy Bob, brought us Bad Santa) can point out how ridiculous they are. Favourites are a magnificent slow-motion zoom shot of Ryan Gosling eating a slab of pizza and some dialogue in which Emma Stone’s character describes how her date would turn out if it were a PG movie (and it is). This is a really witty and fresh way of acknowledging your audience, especially as PG-13 comedies generally treat audiences like they’ve never seen a film and find everything original.

This is obviously a film with a huge budget. The word is that the cast were all first picks, and it shows. The script fits them like a Jackson (thanks, of gloves. Emma Stone has clearly hit new comedic heights, in what is a really satisfying follow up to her dramatic role in The Help, and it’s nice to see Carrell and Moore doing what they do best and balancing touching drama with self-deprecating parody.

There is an array of complex aerial and innovatively angled shots and no expense has been spared in realising the innumerable interior locations. Jacob’s bachelor pad reeks of the obscenely chic modern gentlemen, a yin to the yang of Cal’s empty pine-veneer divorcee’s flat. Crazy, Stupid, Love feels like a highly successful sitcom-to-screen feature: the banter-led writing has a similar narrative shape, building up slowly like a domino chain waiting to be toppled. The characters are written as though they are already our long-standing favourites, and the story hits the ground running, the familiarity is instant, not laboriously explained to us.
As far as blockbuster comedy genres go, Crazy, Stupid Love has its fingers in a lot of pies. Cal and Jacob’s friendship is a bromance; Hannah and Jacob’s meeting is a heart-warming indi romance, and there a generous flourishes of American Beauty age-inappropriate erotica and Parent Trap hijinks. This mix goes a long way to preventing audiences from easily predicting where the film is going, though it might waffle on a tad too long for a family-friendly movie.

American comedy is obviously going through a period of quality innovation, perhaps taking cues from the recent boom in high-production, well-written TV programming. It’s exciting to think that what has traditionally been a dismally low bar is being raised without compromising the inclusive appeal of mainstream cinema. After Bridesmaids, Date Movie and Crazy, Stupid Love, all that remains in the quest to save comedy is to load Adam Sandler and Cameron Diaz into a capsule and send them into permanent orbit.


Wednesday, September 14, 2011


Twenty years ago the phrase ‘3D cinema’ meant something a little different to what it does now. The whole experience was a kind of cult novelty; the flimsy paper glasses and screenings of decidedly B-level treasures like Comin’ At Ya!, The Man Who Wasn’t There and Spacehunter. Today 3D is synonymous with expense. Think of Avatar, how it raked in millions of dollars and employed countless specialised renderers to focus on just plants, dirt, eyes. Think of Disney favourite Tangled, how the technology to animate Rapunzel’s hair took ten years to develop. Think of how much you forked out for the last 3D ticket you bought, and how the preteen counter girl told you that the glasses were still $2.00 extra.

Craig Gillespie’s remake of 1985 classic Fright Night embodies both poles of this short 3D history, by treading that line between big budget special effects and schlock horror. It certainly checks off the teensploitation trifecta: Babes, Blood and Beasts. This is best captured by its spectacular title sequence, an impeccable work of CGI showing the words scrawled in seeping blood, hung in mid-air, sixty feet high over a desolate Nevada desert plain.

Las Vegas teen Charley (Anton Yelchin) has just managed to rope himself a beautiful girlfriend and a cool set of friends. Naturally, he’s trying to forget his days of filming backyard broom-handle fights in super villain costumes with his comic-con buddy Ed (Christopher Mintz-Plasse). His perfect American locker-room experience runs aground when Jerry, a brooding stallion of a night-shift worker, moves in next door. As Ed is quick to point out, Jerry is a vampire, and needs to be staked before things start to go bump in the night. Before Charleys extra-cool single Mum (Toni Collette) has a chance to accuse her son of losing it, they are racing towards the penthouse pad of a leather-clad casino-magician and collector of occult artefacts called Peter Vincent (David Tennant), who might be their only chance to survive Jerry’s vehement but suave bloodlust.

Fright Night is another of the films being critiqued for over-use of 3D. It’s everywhere. Whilst every opportunity to make us feel arterial blood is flying towards our faces has been taken, generally to shrieks of delight, there are also scenes in which a dog, a classroom, or an apple on a table are given mind-boggling depth. Perhaps this is extraneous, and indeed it may be questionable to realise violence in such a gimmicky manner, but my feeling is that the pervading effect keeps us from paying too much attention to the intermittently questionable dialogue. It’s a highly enjoyable smokescreen. Besides, how many of us opened a pack of Lays hoping we’d won an ordinary Tazo and not a holographic one?  

My foremost complaint about Fright Night is that it can’t seem to decide upon an appropriate level of self-awareness. It wavers. One moment it is a gore-fest in which we are asked to care about none of the victims, but simply to enjoy the liberally applied corn syrup and made-you-jump moments. Then suddenly we are ambushed by tracts of banal romantic dialogue between Charlie and Amy (Imogen Poots), the worst offenders. We are clearly meant to invest in their plight. Then all too sudden, that investment is made fun of by David Tennant or Christopher Mintz-Plasse, who seem to have had free reign to customise their roles into wildly comedic character studies. Tennant as a Jack Sparrow-cum-Chris Angel occult enthusiast and Mintz-Plasse (who you will recognise from Superbad and Kick-Ass) as well, the same character as always, a McLovin Mark II. This causes problems when the comic relief has to interact in a serious manner with the other characters. One scene inwhich Jerry persuades Ed to be bitten while the pair is waist deep in a pool felt like a clash of two incompatible worlds, creating a sort of mutant version of the similar romantic scene in Luhrmann’s Romeo + Juliet.

Fortunately, Colin Farrell is pitch perfect. His performance is stylish. He overplays the sex appeal, violence and solemnity in a way that really exemplifies the fun and charm of being a villain. He’s particularly scintillating in a scene in which he stands outside Charley’s doorway, sizing him up and making lewd comments about his girlfriend, at once threatening and jovial. I confess I may have swooned a little at this point and written “give Farrell’s eyebrows an Oscar” in my notes.

Part of the appeal of any vampire movie is the way it makes use of the astounding complexity of historical vampire folklore. There’s a lot of ground to cover when introducing your vampire: Is it invisible in mirrors? Does it balk at crosses or garlic, or walk in the daylight? Can it withstand contact with fire, holy water or silver, and how exactly do you kill it? Stake? Beheading? Unusually, Fright Night skips that exposition. In fact, we find out that Colin Farrell’s Jerry is a vampire so quickly that we are as in the dark about his ‘properties’ as Charlie is. Curiously we end up staring inquiringly at the vampire after each new weapon is tested, waiting for him to tell us whether we (Charley) were any good at attacking him.

Fright Night is first and foremost a gloriously gory monster-thriller, a kind of attack-scene stream of consciousness held together by heart-gripping shock tricks and the brutal massacre of many a gormless civilian. It’s clearly expensive. The locations are atmospheric and well-lit, the Las Vegas dusks providing the perfect amount of optical haziness to give us the jitters without losing sight of the action, and all under rolling cumulus straight out of a Hudson River School painting. The music is brilliant, especially a rendition of 99 Problems in the end credits. Having said this, Fright Night relies heavily on its more seasoned cast members, Collette, Farrell and Tennant, who have a wonderful grasp of the history of 80s' 3D horror films, and without whom it could have stumbled straight to DVD.

This is a film that harks back to that 19th Century understanding of entertainment, in which the freakish, grotesque, mildly pornographic or occult illusions were favourite attractions. Fright Night is tremendous at giving the people what they want: the appalling and the sexy, packaged so that it thrills, rather than genuinely terrifies.

Monday, September 12, 2011


The ‘right’ method of caring for your baby is a slippery and often controversial topic. Should it sleep in your bed? How long should you breast feed? Do we start education early? As the first chimpanzee raised by humans, Nim’s upbringing was even more stigmatised. Project Nim, the new film by Man on Wire director James Marsh is a comprehensive history of science’s navigation of the special differences between man and primate, and the ethics of experimentation.

In 1973 Columbia University research professor Herbert Terrace embarked upon an exciting,  long-term experiment. He removed an infant chimp from its mother’s arms in an unwelcoming primate centre and precociously dubbed the animal Nim Chimpsky, a pun on the name of historical Linguist Noam Chomsky, who famously claimed that only humans “have language”. Terrace placed the chimp in the care of Stephanie LaFarge, a freewheeling, sexually unhinged hippy-matriarch, where he was treated like a human baby (indeed, more lovingly) and in a world first, was taught how to use sign language.

The documentary follows Nim’s growth from word association to something closer to conversation, and illustrates his problematic relationships with humans as he was passed between researchers, photographers, trainers, sanctuaries and medical testing facilities. The resulting film is a powerful compilation of excellently preserved footage, photographs and tastefully realised re-enactments. These records are testament to the inability of humans to disengage from a personification of animals, especially with our closest relatives.

Marsh’s approach is even-handed, never trifling the relationships between Nim and his custodians with overt sentimentality. This gives the interviewees about as fair a trial – one by public sentiment – as possible, whilst never abridging the complexity of that judgement. Each keeper used different ratios of education, parentage and friendship, ownership and freedom in their interaction with Nim. One smoked joints with him; one bit him; one told him off for displays of sexuality; one let him eat at the table; one gave him a TV; one even breast-fed him. Nobody had the perfect combination, but everybody thought theirs was the best method. 

Marsh leaves no hole in the chronology, whether historical, emotional or visual. His interviewees are astonishingly willing contributors, and it’s easy to see why: None were ever openly criticised or held accountable for their missteps during the experiment. Their testimony often slips into confessional, or unwittingly proves them to be unsound or unintelligent keepers. This is interviewing at its best. Many don’t seem to realise how inappropriately their emotional connection with Nim, or lack thereof, made them to behave. Keeper Stephanie is the most deluded of all. She misinterprets the scientific rigour of another female trainer as an underhand play for Nim’s '#1 Mom' role, and describes the chimps’ adolescent curiosity in terms of Oedipal sexual discovery and its attractiveness. Audiences will no doubt take great pleasure in a wry pan shot of her recreated study where a tome entitled ‘Women and Madness’ is of no small prominence. As an audience member, you feel ethically superior as you reassure yourself that such things would never happen in these humane and enlightened times. But the truth is, you don’t know that for sure. What is clear is that Nim’s status as a half-chimp, half-human confused not only Nim, but his guardians and their families too.

Project Nim is a visual smorgasbord of everything 70s. The beards, the tight shorts and terrycloth tennis shirts, the lax approach to institutional romance and the all-pervading sepia-tone. One keeper, Bob, describes his days with Nim as the best of his life, nodding grey locks akimbo, until he remembers: “except for seeing the Grateful Dead play”. The film also boasts an elegant soundtrack, which articulates a tangible sense of the era.

Perhaps fortuitously, Project Nim treads on the coattails of special effects bauble Rise of the Planet of the Apes, a film that packaged futuristic primate sentience as a kind of entertainment wonderland. This attitude was present for Nim, too. Certainly apes have been treated as either desperately cute or comedically ugly quasi-humans in films like Dunston Checks In, King Kong, Congo, Might Joe Young and the upcoming tripe Zookeeper. Nim is at all times either a novelty or a problem to those around him. This seems markedly different from our general disinterest in most other humans.

As Nim’s lawyer (yes, lawyer) points out, Nim has been raised to believe he is human and therefore cannot go on to be treated any less. We then see Nim’s experiences translated through a human lens: any cage he is in becomes a prison, any keeper looking after him becomes his family, any pain he suffers becomes torture, any change of custodian is betrayal and evokes guilt in the keepers. Most crushingly of all, Nim’s animal nature and therefore violence is largely treated as  criminal.

Today Project Nim is rarely cited in the comparative psychology field. Its embarrassingly poor methodology, ambiguous objectives and cruelties make it a deficient example. Not to mention Terrace’s conclusion that Nim’s communicative vocabulary was not language, but an advanced survival ploy. In the end, the experiment failed Nim. It could not make any point or sense of his difficult and confusing life.

What is saddest is that Nim perfectly embodies that most sacred and long-standing of scientific traditions: trial and error. So often, it is by getting things wrong or making mistakes that we are able to learn and improve ourselves. Nim was the proverbial guinea pig and lost a great deal of what can only be called  dignity from that experiment. At the time, many people saw his language abilities, the clothes, the family-like environment, the lessons, as some kind of honour, making Nim special, privileged above all other chimps. Marsh implores: is it right to teach something that it is human, and then take that humanness away from it? Or was it nobler for Nim to resume his place amongst fellow chimps?


Wednesday, September 7, 2011


Unbeknownst to most of us, our first meaningful relationships are the ones our parents share. Though the carnal attractions between a husband and wife may remain a curious mystery to young children, little of the dynamics of marriage escapes youthful eyes, and even less goes unabsorbed. The example we receive as children influences, whether by mimicry or reaction, the way we nurture, seek out or sabotage our partnerships. If we love our parents, this is unavoidable. Beginners is a stunning realisation of a story that delicately locates the places where one couples’ marriage has imprinted itself upon the new relationship of their now-orphaned adult son.

Oliver (Ewan MacGregor) is a 38-year-old illustrator of morbid/twee outsider sketches á la David Shrigley. His work is propelled by his romantic misadventures, self-styled loneliness, and admiration for his parents and their suffering with cancer and a decades-long stale marriage. Oliver’s father Hal (Christopher Plummer) came out four years before his death, found love, a lively social circle and some real level of happiness. Alongside a period of blissful ignorance as a boy, Hal’s late burst of joy bookends a long romantic drought for Oliver, in which he doesn’t really believe he can have a successful relationship. In the wake of his losses, Oliver meets the wide-eyed waif Anna (Melanie Laurent), and his sweet encounters with her are steeped in the memory of his love for his parents and the love lost between them.

Oliver also inherits Arthur, his fathers’ Jack Russell, and talks to it as though it were a child. The animal, which I’m told is named Cosmo in real life, is trained and wrangled so as to appear almost human, even given lines in the form of subtitles which it conveys with facial expression, if you will, rather than barking. This dog quickly surpasses all cuteness to become a fully-fledged character that inhabits a dual role as both Oliver’s ersatz son and his sage yet hard-bitten philosophical sounding board. It’s as though Oliver has set up in this dog a dialogue with the facsimile of his childhood self. 

Much of Beginners is purportedly autobiographical. Writer/Director Mike Mills (of Thumbsucker fame) did indeed have a father who came out and had a loving relationship in his winter years after his mother’s death. There is no question, even without this soundbite, of the verity and complexity of the propositions and relationships of Beginners. Ewan MacGregor embodies Oliver more than portrays him. It is hard to believe this is the same actor who crawled out of a toilet in Trainspotting and sung twee medleys with an obscenely sparkly Kidman in Moulin Rouge. Those past parts are left behind wholly, replaced by a performance that somehow  simultaneously articulates what it is like to live in 2003, to be 38, to be a designer, to be single, to meet someone, and to love your parents and want them to love each other. It is a richly written character who MacGregor seems to know personally, if not be himself.

Whilst this family portrait is certainly not always happy, it is the image of a privileged lifestyle, where success and a certain quiet comfort is enjoyed. There is also a level to which Oliver is living a serene version of the hipster dream, albeit a mature manifestation of it, where all the same ‘cool stuff’ is enjoyed, but for its own sake and in the company of friends rather than for show, meta or irony. As a result this is a highly aesthetic exercise, not in terms of styling, but in the activities Oliver takes part in – contemplative histrionic vandalism, eating tortillas on the curb, driving down the sidewalk, communicating by pen and paper instead of speaking, and playing romantic games that toy with the rules of conversation. These are each artistic methods employed to approach life differently, to force something beautiful or surprising from it where others might simply inhabit the crisps aisle of the supermarket, the colour-co-ordinated baby shower, the plastic booth at the fast food diner. In a sense this is a very art-pragmatic lifestyle, harmonising with many of the central tenets of the French Situationist Internationale, who championed the integration of art into all aspects of life, and the practices of detournemont and derive: drifting out of routine or implementing game-like rules that squeeze unpredictable results from everyday activities.

The danger with Beginners is that it might attract criticism for being overly ‘indie’ or sentimental, especially considering the lack of cataclysmic hardship Oliver undergoes (his woes stem mostly from overthinking things). There is a degree to which ‘white people problem’ and ‘first world problem’ memes might pick up a few pointers here. In it’s defence, this reading is merely a surface one, and I certainly don’t feel as though Beginners lacks authority over its subject or is shying away from darker territories, however easy those accusations are to make. This is a film with a level of authenticity reflective of the kind of lifestyle a writer/director is likely to have, and indeed did have in this case. Beginners doesn’t spoon-feed its audience, and there are abundant connections, touching motifs and deeper material echoing through it for those who relish the rummage.

The duration of the film is divided evenly between the past, when Oliver’s father was alive, and the his present relationship, via both cut scenes and recollection sequences. This is where the strength of the film lies. Whilst it is not structureless, there seems no pattern to the oscillation between past and present which shifts busily, apart from small connections in Oliver’s memory. Yet the schisms are not solely flashbacks either. This makes for a magnificently woven whole in which music, various objects and a series of short slide-show-like vignettes narrated by Oliver make rhythmic reprieves. There are also delicious moments in which Wills seems to make self-evident commentaries on the nature of family simply for the audience; a Freud fancy dress costume, the inclusion of the dog in the idea of marriage, and the simulacra between Hal’s devotional relationship to Andy (Goran Visnjic) and Oliver’s with Anna: the flowers, the dancing, the pillow talk.

It might be true that most young people see their relationships as being simply the romantic connection between themselves and their lover. Beginners invites that we consider them awhile as prospective marriages, or prospective families, as liaisons framed by a constant awareness of how a child would interact with and study the partnership. Whatever conclusions this exercise brings, Beginners always recommends a sizeable dose of play, of riffing on the ordinary until it becomes artful, and taking the failed relationships of others with a pinch of salt.