The central figure of 20th Century Women is 55 year-old Dorothea (Bening), a single mother to her son Jamie (Zumann), whose father left when he was 8 and lives in a boarding home with his mother, roommate Abbie (Gerwig) and mustached handyman William (Crudup). Periodically, Jamie's friend Julie (Fanning) sneaks into the house through the side window, mainly because she can't stand her own mother, who forces her to sit in on her group counseling sessions, and because the friendship these two have is yet to be ruined by sex. The relationship between Jamie and his mom, on the other hand, is growing distant, as Dorothea looks to the other two ladies to help raise Jamie, as she feels an increasing separation in her ability to relate to his teenage angst.
This is director/writer Mills' follow up to his 2010 film Beginners, which I wasn't a huge fan of, but it earned Christopher Plummer an Oscar. It was partly autobiographical of the relationship Mills had with his father and his coming out as a homosexual in his older age. In 20th Century Women, this time, he tells a story that is slightly about his relation with his mother as a teenager. Mills uses voiceover from the point of view of each character, mainly Jamie, telling us things that happened in the past and what will happen in the future, while expressing his observations of a world that rapidly changes around all of them. Mills combines this visceral narrative style with superb cinematography from Sean Porter that pushes away from characters in rooms to observe through thresholds like an onlooker of the beautiful humanity of family.
Meanwhile, there are many other things to praise about 20th Century Women. Mills collects a fantastic soundtrack that includes, Talking Heads, David Bowie, and Black Flag, that couldn't be a more spot on representation for the times and characters we meet. The screenplay, is also brimming with honesty. It especially shines in a scene where friends and family gather at the dinner table, that involves a hilariously awkward conversation about Abbie's period. The chaos and awkwardness involved, for both the characters and the audience, is why it's one of the best scenes of 2016.
Then there is Bening, whose performance is everything. She should earn an Oscar nomination for her work here. Her character, as Jamie says, “comes from the depression.” She's a women who has seen it all, where her life has been damaged by men who misjudge her, politics that have changed through the years, and she has no idea where to begin to help her son become “a man.” The supporting performance from Gerwig is nothing to sleep on, as her own characters struggle with sex and depression is haunting it's so good. She carries weight on her eyes and shoulders, like a boulder that would weigh anyone down.
20th Century Women is a fantastic film. It is a true hidden gem, that snuck up on me at the end of a crowded award season. I found Mike Mills film to be a beautiful combination of family and coming of age. It was really something I could relate to and I don't think we have seen enough movies that have this much heart, in this century or the next.
3 ½ Stars
Written by: Leo Brady
MOVIE: 20TH CENTURY WOMEN
STARRING: ANNETTE BENING; GRETA GERWIG; ELLE FANNING; BILLY CRUDUP
DIRECTED BY: MIKE MILLS
AMovieGuy.com's RATING: 3 ½ STARS (Out of 4)
The dynamic of family, love, and living life that exist in Mike Mills newest film 20th Century Women is just about the greatest thing I have seen in a movie in a long time. Nothing about this movie feels phony or unnatural. The characters each carry their own weight, traumas, and experiences that have shaped and molded them, like the lumps of human clay that we are. With a phenomenal lead performance from Annette Bening, superb supporting work from young Lucas Jade Zumann, Greta Gerwig, Elle Fanning, and Billy Crudup, 20th Century Women is a movie about people- some eccentric, some trying to survive- living life passionately in all of its messy glory.