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There are a certain few films that you know from the first few frames that something essential and true is being conjure. Mike Mills wonderful new film “Beginners,” starring Ewan MacGregor, Christopher Plummer, and Melanie Laurent, opens this week. Ewan MacGregor plays Oliver Fields, a sweet illustrator in his late thirties who quickly and quietly falls head over heels for French actress Anna (Melanie Laurent of “Inglorious Basterds”) while she is shacked up at the Biltmore Hotel during a film shoot. While falling into this new love, the commitment-shy Fields starts thinking about his late father, Hal Fields (Christopher Plummer).

“Beginners” is based on a true story of Mills’ own elderly father’s decision to come-out as a gay man at 75- shortly after his wife’s passing-then begin to literally live out loud and proud as a gay man before succumbing to his own death from cancer, years later. Complete with a wonderful group of nurturing, gay friends and sweetly sexy, young lover (Goran Visnjic of “ER”), Hal’s new life enlightens and enables his son to see love in an entirely new light. In fact, his father’s joyous, fulfilling new existence allows Oliver to see that it is possible for him.

Christopher Plummer plays Hal Fields with his own enigmatic, gorgeous ease, and it is amazing to see how MacGregor takes in and plays off the masterly performance from Plummer. It is truly one of the most beautiful father-son relationships I’ve ever seen depicted onscreen. Laurent is totally luminous, as usual, and also adds her own succinct generational weight to her portrait of Anna, a busy French actress who, before meeting Oliver, preferred the company of empty hotel rooms to any kind of real, breathing relationship.

“Beginners” shows us how a certain post-Vietnam generation is still being haunted by the previous era’s mistakes, unhappiness and haunting nostalgia. Being a child born of the mid-Sixties himself, Mills uses his own highly creative and varied background as an music video director, illustrator and graphic artist to collage out feelings in a quietly beautiful, brand-new and whip-smart cinematic form. There is not a single false note in Ewan MacGregor’s performance. He and Laurent shine bright with both the quiet glory of new love, while battling off the heavy weight of their own, carried-down emotional baggage. Christopher Plummer is, quite simply, outstanding- giving a magnetic, warm and oh-so watchful performance as Oliver’s powerful memories of his now-deceased father resonate and collide with his present relationship.

Amidst the memories, the nostalgia and the sweet tumult of the present, LA has rarely been given a better, more iconic treatment. The locations, from the Richard Neutra “Health House” occupied by Oliver’s dying father, to the hills of Griffith Park, to rollerskating (yes!) in the lobby of the Biltmore Hotel, Mills shows Los Angeles shining or smudged- all depending on Oliver’s mood. Oh, and there is a sanguine Jack Russell terrier, (once belonging to Hal,) who speaks to Oliver in hilariously plaintive subtitle.

It’s an important, masterful film, as Mills seems to be shaping up to be one of only a handful of American filmmakers giving actual adults in this country a real voice and authentic identity. I cannot wait to see what he’s going to create next. Go and see this film for many reasons- but, please, please… just go and really see it.


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