Beginners (15)

Starring: Ewan McGregor, Christopher Plummer, Mélanie Laurent

Mills's comedy-drama touches on some very dark themes (cancer, death, family rupture, sexual repression) in a delicate and very playful way.

Its narrative structure, flitting back and forth in time and making frequent use of montage sequences, voice-overs and drawings, is ingenious. Ewan McGregor plays Oliver, a graphic designer whose father Hal (Christopher Plummer) has just died. In flashbacks, we learn how Hal came out as gay in his mid-70s and found happiness with a much younger boyfriend. At the same time, we also follow Oliver's burgeoning romance with French actress Anna (Mélanie Laurent.) Mills teeters on the very brink of whimsy. The Jack Russell dog with its 150 words of vocabulary and its tendency to talk through subtitles risks wearing out its charm. Laurent's Anna has a kookiness that can't help but rekindle memories of Diane Keaton in Woody Allen's Annie Hall. However, McGregor, in one of his most assured performances, helps anchor a film that could have seemed very fey and far-fetched indeed. He underplays beautifully.