The first in a line of many dog performances hit for us in March of this year at SXSW, but there’s been avid debate (for some reason) about which performance deserves some sort of award (or treat).
Yes, Snowy is (sadly) the most entertaining character of “Tintin,” and Uggie in “The Artist” is charming and adorable. Maximilian, the Doberman in “Hugo” is menacing, Willie Nelson, the golden retriever in “Our Idiot Brother” is a faithful little old guy and Dolce, Charlize Theron’s neglected Pomeranian in “Young Adult” adds some slight comic relief, (let’s not even talk the boring Skeletor from “50/50”), but it’s Arthur, the melancholy, existentialist, deep-thinking Jack Russell in Mike Mills’ “Beginners” (which debuted at SXSW) that truly won our hearts this year.
Sure, Uggie was cute and endearing, what a lot of people truly want from dog, and that’s why many are calling it the standout canine performance of the year, but Arthur is infinitely better, has personality and is practically a three-dimensional character in comparison. In “Beginners,” Arthur has lost his master (Ewan McGregor’s father played by Christopher Plummer) who has died of cancer, and there’s a deep sadness that follows as Oliver (McGregor) is forced to adopt him. They bond over this tragedy, the passing of this loved one is their opening connection, and without Oliver he reacts with a panicked separation anxiety. Everyone’s affected and rightly so as “Beginners” is about loss as much as it is about life.
Moreover, Arthur talks (via subtitles). Well, he doesn’t talk so much as it’s McGregor’s projection of what he’s already thinking, like a sounding-board; and McGregor’s continuing a dialogue with the pet about the person they both love and deeply miss and therefore a brilliant storytelling device. Plus, how can you compare that with funny, bittersweet lines like “Are we married yet?” “I hope this feeling lasts” and “tell her the darkness is about to drown us unless something drastic happens right now.” Amazing.