Ewan McGregor plays Oliver Fields in a comedy drama that takes after the European art film in structure. The narrative comprises intertwined flashbacks, focusing on three key relationships: with his mother (Mary Page Keller) as a child; with his now openly gay father (Christopher Plummer) as an adult; with a lover (Mélanie Laurent) after his father’s passing. Alongside are occasional archival images – what Oliver dubs ‘historical consciousness’.
The film is clearly autobiographical but strikes a similar tone as Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, minus the sci-fi. Its enjoyable quirkiness is a mask for profundity that writer-director Mills and his on-screen alter ego are terrified of. Everything is mediated, but the narrator admits his unreliability.
It is a well-written and directed piece, and the cast is uniformly excellent, but ending on a predictably twee note after a trim 98 minutes it feels like the exact sum of that time. We’re given an introduction to a life and psyche; matching pairs of hints from which we are invited to construct causal relationships. But as Neil Gaiman recently said,
The moment that you feel that, just possibly, you’re walking down the street naked, exposing too much of your heart and your mind and what exists on the inside, showing too much of yourself. That’s the moment you may be starting to get it right.
Mills would have done well to go into greater depth, greater specificity no matter the perceivable loss in universality. To add chaos to chaos.