Writer/director Mike Mills has a far-fetched story to tell in his new film, “Beginners.” Shortly after his wife’s death, a 75-year-old father announces to his 38-year-old son that he’s gay. Interestingly, it’s all true, based on Mills’ real-life experience.
When Oliver’s (the excellent Ewan McGregor) father, Hal (the ever-elegant Christopher Plummer), comes out of the closet, the revelation, oddly, makes sense. Through flashbacks, we witness Oliver’s confusion as a child observing his parent’s lack of interaction. It seems Hal’s wife, Georgia (a delightfully quirky Mary Page Keller), had an agreement during their 44 years of marriage. That’s not surprising given the fact that homosexuality was considered a mental illness in the 1950s.
Hal rejoices in his new lifestyle. He embraces gay pride, embarks on a loving relationship with a man half his age (Goran Visnjic) and finds true happiness. Even when he’s diagnosed with terminal cancer four years later, Hal’s quiet resolve indicates that it’s all been worth it.
Oliver, on the other hand, lacks the eternal optimism that Hal exudes. He’s sabotaged most of his relationships, which doesn’t go unnoticed by his father. One night, a few months after Hal’s death, Oliver meets a mysterious woman (“Inglourious Basterd’s” Melanie Laurent) at a party. Will he be able to shed his pessimistic take on relationships and make the life-altering plunge that Hal did?
“Beginners” is a sweet, lovely film, which is masterfully scripted. At times, I felt as though I were watching a Woody Allen movie. Impressive still images (photos, graphics and iconic collages) bring back long-lost visual memories. A toe-tapping score sporting the likes of Hoagy Carmichael and Jelly Roll Morton keeps the beat of “Beginners” light-hearted when need be.
Mills (“Thumbsucker”) never stoops to sentimentality to ingratiate his audience. “Beginners” is not so much an examination of loss but rather a celebration of life — at any age.