In a remarkable case of art imitating life, graphic artist-turned-filmmaker Mike Mills (Thumbsucker) returns to feature films with a personal ode to family, love and identity. Unabashedly autobiographical, Beginners bumbles through the life of lovelorn graphic designer Oliver (Ewan McGregor), whose burgeoning relationship with a delightfully offbeat French actress (Melanie Laurent) forces him to come to grips with his father’s recent death; a passing made more complex by the fact that Hal (Christopher Plummer) waited for his wife of 45 years to die before living his last months as an exuberant gay man.
Expertly criss-crossing three timeframes, Beginners interleaves Oliver’s giddy present with the gorgeous Anna with flashbacks from childhood and Hal’s Indian summer with his boyfriend Andy (Goran Visnjic). Shot through it all are wry sketches of Oliver’s romantic history, plus a scene-stealing anthropomorphised Jack Russell. This might sound overstuffed and more than a little twee (“quirky” seems to be the go-to epithet), but bolstered by his cast’s masterfully affecting performances, Mills juggles it all with a deftness of touch and tone that results in both a deeply poignant elegy and a heart-fluttering celebration of love in all its messy forms.