Beginners Ewan McGregor, Christopher Plummer, Melanie Laurent Director: Mike Mills One of the most surreal and hilarious moments in Mike Mills' second film sees his protagonist, Oliver (Ewan McGregor), having a meeting with an indie rock band who have employed him to design the cover of their latest album. The musicians look on aghast as the designer unreels a complex foldout stretching to the length of half a room. Rather than introducing the musicians - who are called The Sads - his concept is a series of single-frame drawings documenting the history of sadness. 'Just take their pictures,' his supervisor says in dismay, after the band leave the room. Beginners is based largely on Mills' own life - he was a graphic designer before he began making music videos and films. And the story here about Oliver's father telling him he's gay after his wife's death matches Mills' father's real-life coming-out. With that in mind, the episode with the band could be seen as Mills' revenge for once having a great idea spurned by a mundane client. But it also probably speaks about the theme bubbling beneath the film's narrative: the difficulties of human connection (Oliver and the band unable to reconcile creative concepts, for instance). It's a story about how individuals come to terms with (or suppress) their inner self (Oliver's father Hal's belated acknowledgment of his homosexuality; his mother Georgia's efforts to obscure her Jewish roots) and also their inability to bring their feelings into the open. This latter facet materialises in Oliver's inability to sustain relationships with his girlfriends until, that is, a French actress (played by Melanie Laurent) enters his life. They meet at a costume party with him dressed as Sigmund Freud and her as a man. The movie unfolds in the present (2003, when Hal has just died) and flits back and forth between flashbacks of Oliver's childhood (mostly his interactions with Georgia) and the recent past (in between Hal's declaration of his sexuality and his death). Beginners never overdoes the quirkiness. Rather, Mills presents a low-key and heartfelt drama which begins melancholic but ends optimistic. Extras: a short film about the making of the film; full-length commentary with Mills; trailer.