The premise of Beginners could easily be dismissed as Hollywood whimsy – a twee ode to grasping life however old you are – but for the fact that it actually happened to writer/ director Mike Mills (Thumbsucker). Mills, like lonely designer Oliver (Ewan McGregor), was tossed a curveball when his septuagenarian father (here played by Christopher Plummer) came out after the death of his wife.
He was also diagnosed with a life-threatening disease. Which explains why Mills writes with such palpable affection, directs with the woozy, tear-fuzzed eye of a man both reminiscing and mourning and creates a bittersweet piece of self-indulgent loveliness. Magpie-ing from Woody Allen, Mills’ style and script may be too self-consciously quaint for some: Arthur the dog imparts wisdom via subtitles; McGregor meet-cutes Mélanie Laurent at a party dressed as Freud; a doodled section is entitled ‘
The History of Sadness’. But knowing novelties and borderline pretension aside, there’s sheer delight to be found in the performances. McGregor is at his appealing best, charmingly morose as a man-child looking for answers to life’s big questions, while Laurent provides good kook and hipster wardrobe. But most beguiling is Plummer – ebullient, emotionally resonant and rocking a jaunty neck scarf, it’s a fearless, joyful turn that banishes memories of studly Captain von Trapp completely. The infectious delight with which he snogs Goran Visnjic, has gay get-togethers and gallops around bookshops in greedy pursuit of pleasure is genuinely lifeaffirming while showcasing a veteran actor at the top of his game.