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With: Ewan McGregor, Christopher Plummer, Mélanie Laurent, Goran Visnjic, Kai Lennox, Mary Page Keller, Keegan Boos, China Shavers, Melissa Tang, Luke Diliberto, Lou Taylor Pucci
Written by: Mike Mills
Directed by: Mike Mills
MPAA Rating: R for language and some sexual content
Running Time: 105
Date: 09/11/2010

Beginners (2011)

3 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

Father's Gay

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Writer/director Mike Mills (Thumbsucker) based this movie on his own father's story, although it's clearly highly fictionalized, much to the movie's benefit. The movie somehow manages to be playfully quirky, with hilariously deadpan dialogue and many cute moments. And at the same time, it's absolutely heartfelt, unafraid to delve into the aching emotional territories of love, loss, and broken hearts.

In 2003, Oliver (Ewan McGregor) meets a beautiful girl, Anna (Mélanie Laurent), at a costume party; he begins to fall for her, even though he is convinced that the relationship will never work. In flashback, we learn the story of Oliver's father, Hal (Christopher Plummer), who came out of the closet at age 75, began dating a younger man (Goran Visnjic) and was diagnosed with cancer. Both with his father and with Anna, in the past and in the present, Oliver must come to understand loss and accept love. Hal's adorable dog Arthur comes under Oliver's care, and "speaks" to Oliver with the aid of subtitles.

Gimmicks like the "talking" dog (he simply looks at another character and subtitles provide his dialogue) could have been annoying, but it strikes just the right tone, coming to the movie's rescue, just before collapsing into sadness. The chemistry between characters is spot-on, and Mills isn't afraid to go in close. Whereas Thumbsucker fell into boring structure, Beginners is a structured movie, but allows for messiness within the structure; it's open-hearted, but hilariously self-effacing.

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