Beginners is another demonstration—in the vein of Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, but not that good—that it's fully possible to make a heartfelt postmodern movie. It's by Mike Mills, a director married to artist Miranda July and trained as an artist himself (Beginners is his second feature; the first was 2005's Thumbsucker). And it includes arty, effort-y things like clever historical and personal slideshows that stand in for flashbacks, and a Jack Russell terrier given witty captioned dialogue, sometimes about the self-reflexive fact that dogs don't talk. Beginners is an ambitious movie, and it works.
True, it's hard to make a stinker when you've got Christopher Plummer and Ewan McGregor. The romance part of the film, between McGregor and luscious Frenchy Mélanie Laurent, is slightly irritating in its generic quirkiness, but the father-son story is so charming, it's all you'll remember.
After his wife (McGregor's mom) dies, the dad comes out of the closet. It leaves his son with the strange understanding that the waves of alienation their marriage gave off when he was a child were, in fact, explainable—but still, the marriage was a sham, and he doesn't know how to enter into a real relationship of his own. Mills's own father came out very late in life, and Mills has written the autobiographical sections as tenderly as can be.
In the movie, not long after his great coming-out, Dad gets terminal cancer. Beginners then becomes the trip to the final resting place of their relationship. It's not really a rocky or dramatic or unusual journey, but each man has to pull himself past where his maps go and, ultimately, the movie itself is unusual enough.