OLIVER (EWAN MCGREGOR) is approaching middle age, has no idea how to maintain a romantic relationship, and is reeling from the recent death of his father, Hal (Christopher Plummer), who came out of the closet only four years before he died of cancer at age 74.
As described via flashback, Hal's late-life sexual awakening is slightly discomfiting—he places embarrassing personal ads and has an open relationship with a much-younger man who cheerfully cops to having "daddy issues." But Oliver is gamely supportive of his late-blooming father; it's not until after Hal's death, when Oliver falls for a pretty French girl (Mélanie Laurent), that he's forced to consider how the troubled relationship between his parents may have shaped his own romantic outlook.
Writer/director Mike Mills (Thumbsucker) based the insightful, funny, and moving Beginners on his experiences with his own father, and a personal sense of discovery pervades the film. Mills refrains from drawing any direct cause-and-effect correlations between Oliver's girl troubles and his parents' troubled relationship—there's no blame or judgment, only an honest search for understanding. Beginners has no shortage of humor and style, but its real heart is in the gentle parallel that emerges between the emotional evolution of father and son.