Father and son Hal (Christopher Plummer) and Oliver (Ewan McGregor) are both newbies in Beginners, Mike Mills’ beautifully shaped and shaded autobiographical drama about the opportunity to remodel one’s life, at any age, to make more room for happiness. After the death of his wife of 44 years, Hal comes out of the closet, flourishes in a loving relationship with a younger man (Goran Visnjic), and — no spoiler — faces a diagnosis of terminal cancer. For his part, when Oliver meets freespirited Anna (Inglourious Basterds‘ Mélanie Laurent) shortly after his father’s death, the son recognizes just how much of a beginner he himself is when it comes to long-lasting romantic love. And as memories of the past mix with his learner’s-permit life in the present, Oliver’s relationships with both his late father and Anna deepen and reorder.

Mills’ first film, Thumbsucker, only hinted at the unique voice this distinctive writer-director displays in Beginners. His approach to moviemaking reflects his training as an artist and graphic designer: The movie darts, dreams, and sometimes seems to dance. The great Plummer, meanwhile, creates an inspiring, fully rounded man in late bloom, and McGregor responds with a performance to match. A-

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