What would you do if your 75 year old father told you he was gay? I’d imagine that make a semi-autobiographical movie about the experience isn’t terribly high on anyone’s list but clearly it was high enough on Mike Mills’ to merit the creation of Beginners. Rather than seeing a shrink, starting a stand up comedy tour or experimenting with drugs, Mills roped in Ewan McGregor, Christopher Plummer and Melanie Laurent to tell the tale of how his elderly father came out to him and, in return, brought him closer. Then promptly died.

I thought the film was going to be funny. It’s a great set-up. I’d seen the trailer so I knew there was a talking dog involved and that there were some wacky exchanges as Plummer embraces his homosexuality (‘House music?’). But this is not a funny film. It’s a film that’s coated with a layer of melancholy so thick that even when its characters find some semblance of happiness, there’s still the overriding feeling that they’re going to screw it up. The central romance, between McGregor and Laurent, feels so ‘indie’ that you almost expect Noah Baumbach to be hiding behind the curtains of their hotel sweet. But it is also charmingly original, with the highlight being their first date where Laurent, due to laryngitis, doesn’t say a word.

A lot of people will find Plummer the star of the show, especially as McGregor, once again, chooses a fairly bland character. But there’s enough spark from the largely European cast, as well as from the intoxicatingly fun editing work, that the runtime flies by. There are problems and I have suspicions that everyone involved was taking the work a little bit too seriously, but this is a politely amusing, touchingly romantic story that connects not just a father and son but the whole mess of relationships that make up Mike Mills’ life.

Touching and truthful you’ll feel like a voyeur into the director’s life, but won’t be able to look away.

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