104 minutes

There has to be something wrong with a film that is literally stolen by a cuddly Jack Russell terrier that speaks in subtitles. Yet that is probably by design rather than by default, since Mike Mills' second feature is a deliberately off-centre attempt at autobiographical therapy. Set in 2003, mr. Mills' amiably emotional film, punctuated by deliberately scrambled chronology and regular pop culture history interludes, has graphic artist Oliver (Ewan McGregor) dealing with the coming out of his 75-year-old widowed father (Christopher Plummer) as gay, and then, three years later, falling in love with a charming French actress (Mélanie Laurent) while still mourning his father's death from cancer.

     What is so good about Beginners is mr. Mills' ease with his actors, and the way he harnesses his deceptively easy-going, shapeless handling to bring to life the small details that turn out to be the key moments of happiness in our own lives. This results in a series of affecting, emotionally spot-on moments as Oliver, perfectly portrayed by mr. McGregor as bewildered and overcome by all that surrounds him, learns to deal with his father's disease and his own failings. The price to pay for that is a general lack of structural focus and an odd, disjointed rhythm, making the film more of a slow-burn series of details accreting on top of each other rather than a cohesive narrative.

     It should be underlined how personal the film is to its writer/director – the father/son plot is directly based on mr. Mills' real life experiences with his own father, while the love story is entirely fictional. But while it certainly explains how spot-on the film is emotionally, you can't help but wish it could stand up as well narratively, its emotional drive overcoming everything else to exclusion.

Starring Ewan McGregor, Christopher Plummer, Mélanie Laurent; Goran Visnjic, Kai Lennox, Mary Page Keller, Keegan Boos.
     Directed and written by Mike Mills; produced by Leslie Urdang, Dean Vanech, Miranda de Pencier, Jay van Hoy, Lars Knudsen; music by Roger Neill, David Palmer, Brian Reitzell; director of photography (colour by Offhollywood), Kasper Tuxen; production designer, Shane Valentino; costume designer, Jennifer Johnson; film editor, Olivier Bugge Coutte. 
     A Focus Features/Olympus Pictures presentation/production, in association with Parts & Labor. (US distributor, Focus Features. World sales, Focus Features International.) 
     Screened: distributor private screening, Zon Lusomundo Colombo 9 (Lisbon), June 21st 2011. 


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