Mike Mills’ new film Beginners is a love story for the rest of us – people who are still trying to figure out what those words mean, exactly. Using flashbacks and original artwork, the semi-autobiographical film explores the significance of our childhood memories, the ongoing mystery of who our parents really are, and the unavoidable sadness that accompanies all of life’s tragedies and unanswerable questions. Ewan McGregor turns in an incredible performance as Oliver, a thirty-something artist unfulfilled by his gig, designing album covers for bands who don’t appreciate his ambitious creative vision. The role fits him so perfectly that it is powerful enough to reignite teen crushes the world over, providing us all with adequate fodder to go home and imagine Oliver (or Ewan) as our new boyfriend – a character who creates some of the most hilarious graffiti art the world has ever seen.
After learning that his father Hal (played by the incomparable Christopher Plummer) is gay and dying of cancer, Oliver is forced to confront his own life choices and his long-held perceptions of his parents. A chance meeting with a charismatic but lonely French actress (Mélanie Laurent) ultimately offers him a chance not to repeat his past mistakes, but this, of course, is easier said than done. The film is at once a meditation on the many ways we hold ourselves back, both consciously and unconsciously, and a reminder that with enough courage it is always possible to start over. Most impressively, Mills manages an emotional intimacy from beginning to end that never feels forced or heavy-handed, and allows the audience to experience the humor and disappointment of the characters in a rare way. And speaking of humor… it is worth noting that Christopher Plummer’s neckerchiefs are a real highlight not to be missed.