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By Jennifer Vanasco

Gay movies for mainstream audiences usually come in two flavors.

There are the martyr movies- Milk, Philadelphia – where a noble gay person comes to a tragic end through no fault of his own, becoming a hero through his suffering; and there are the coming out movies, where a young person's adolescence is made more complicated by her realization that she's a lesbian.

Beginners is something different.

It is fresh. Funny. And touches on the meaning of life without being morbid or maudlin.

Also, its main character is a straight guy.

Oliver (a weary Ewan McGregor) is a man in his late 30s who is lost. Though he has friends, he has no community. His work is unsatisfying; he is too careful with his affections and keeps joy at arm's length. He is afraid of being hurt and so he closes himself off from meaningful connections, from risk.

Oliver's sadness slums his shoulders and slows his steps. At first, we think we understand. After all, he is grieving. He has just lost his father to cancer, after losing his mother to cancer four years before. But soon we learn in flashback that he had been a serious child, watching the world warily. He ends relationships before they turn into something, because he is too afraid of what they might turn into.

Then he meets Anna (the luminescent Melanie Laurent) a French actress whose playfulness is a cover for her own essential loneliness. And they start falling in love.

But this is not just any romantic drama. Very early on, we learn that after Oliver's mother died, Oliver's father Hal came out as gay. At 75.

In flashback, we find that he transformed himself from a chilly museum director married to a woman to a man who wears purple sweaters, falls in love with a man (ER's Goran Visnjic), celebrates Gay Pride and is embraced warmly by a political community of gay men.

Hal (a vivacious Christopher Plummer) becomes for Oliver a lesson in how to live. His story says that it is never too late to find happiness.

Director and writer Mike Mills, whose own father came out at age 75 after the death of his mother, tells Hal's and Oliver's stories with humanity and humor and a big dose of kindness. This is a beautifully done film with details – like snapshots of people that put the flashbacks in context – that place you firmly in Oliver's quirky, creative mind. Also –this is all lighter and funnier then it may seem. For example, one of the film's strongest characters is a dog, Arthur (played by a rescue Jack Russel named Cosmo), whose thoughts are subtitled.

I know.

It sounds ridiculous.

But it's charming. And it reminds us that all creatures are happiest when they are loved.