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Movie review: 'Beginners,' 3 stars

A scene from the film "The Beginners."

A scene from the film "The Beginners." Credit: Handout

3 stars
Written and directed by Mike Mills
Starring Ewan McGregor, Christopher Plummer, Melanie Laurent
Rated R

Director Mike Mills based “Beginners” on his own life, and the sincerity shows. Touching and earnest but never sappy or self-serious, the movie hooks you with its levity and understated complexity.

Ewan McGregor stars as Oliver, a fumbling soul who grew up with a skewed model of love. His late father, Hal (Christopher Plummer), came out of the closet at age 75 after 44 years of marriage. Having never witnessed real love between his parents, Oliver approaches his own relationships with little faith.

Half the movie is composed of flashbacks, as Oliver remembers Hal in his final years before succumbing to cancer. After becoming an openly gay man, Hal lives life to the fullest: He finds a doting young boyfriend, goes out dancing, hosts parties. (His wife, to be clear, passed away before he came out.)

Oliver is ever the attentive son as he assists his ailing father, but he’s also the eager observer. He seems overwhelmed by this 11th-hour turn of events, but grateful to finally be getting some blueprints for life.

While he contemplates his father’s profound — yet tragically brief — experience with self-realization, Oliver navigates his own relationship with Anna (Melanie Laurent), a pretty French actress. They connect on many levels, but they both have issues that render them newbies (hence the title) to functional relationships.

“Beginners” occasionally feels like an overly quaint chronicle of two beautiful people in the getting-to-know-you phase, but Oliver’s poignant and often humorous reflections of his father root the film in fertile ground.

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