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20th Century Women - Movie Review

5 beersGraceful and seductively beguiling, Mike Mills’ intimate portrait of five people living in 1979 Santa Barbara is one of the year’s most pleasant surprises.

Brimming with many brilliant moments from an ensemble cast hitting on all cylinders, 20th Century Women is a film about characters, moods, and thoughts rather than plot. Though nothing really happens over the two hours and no one experiences any devastating dilemmas, we’re totally entranced by Mills’ whip-smart dialogue that always feels real and manages to cut to the core of human relationships with a genuineness many screenwriters strive for yet rarely find. Watching the film is like sitting down with a couple of baby boomers as they wax nostalgic about family, time, women, politics, music, and the precious connections they’ve made through their entire lives. It’s certainly not for everybody, but if you like your movies real and raw, then 20th Century Women is for you.

In his 2011 Oscar-winning Beginners, Mills mined the relationship of his father who, at the age of 75, came fully out of the closet. This time around, Mills pulls from the warm childhood memories of his mother and the women who raised him to tell the story of Jamie (newcomer Lucas Jade Zumann), a pensive teen growing up in a single-mother household during the late 70’s.

Jamie’s mother, Dorothea, is played by Annette Bening in what is one of her strongest performances since her smoldering turn in American Beauty. The actress is like a fine wine – just keeps getting better and better with age. Dorothea grew up during the depression, had Jamie when she was 40, and now struggles to confront the intense social changes of the ‘70s. She has that ’60s free spirit about her but is smart enough to recognize that she needs help. So, she enlists two younger women to teach Jamie the ways of the world.

Abbie (Greta Gerwig) is a punk rock photographer who recently moved back to Santa Barbara after learning she has cervical cancer. She is renting an upstairs bedroom in Dorothea’s house and, in many ways, represents Jamie’s pinhole peep into the world of art, exploration, and music that will forge Jamie’s perspective of life and how he should live it.

Julie (Elle Fanning) is Jamie’s promiscuous and tortured childhood first-love. Slightly older, and much wiser to the world, Julie is discovering her own sexuality while refusing Jamie’s intimate attention – even though she sneaks into his house and sleeps in his bed most nights. Julie is everything Jamie wants in a soulmate – if only she would let him fall in love with her.

Representing the only adult male in Jamie’s life is William (Billy Cruddup), the handyman who is renovating Dorothea’s house while boarding within it. Though Dorothea sees William as a surrogate father for her son, Jamie shows no signs of bonding with him.

Mills’ creative arts background as video director and graphic designer plays a huge part in 20th Century Women’s laid-back sensibility and visual verve. Though a tad long, Mills keeps things visually engaging with short scenes, colorful montages, and black/white title cards that introduce the story’s defining events such as Jimmy Carter’s Crisis in Confidence speech, the Iran hostage crisis, the Three Mile Island nuclear meltdown, and many other world events that give the story a rich sense of place and time.

Though small in scale, cast, and production, 20th Century Women feels amazingly larger and grander than it actually is. It is a multilayered, heavily-textured tale of first love, regret, growing up, and a family’s struggle to forge even a momentary relationship. Touches of humor, drama, and familial dysfunction come together perfectly to demonstrate the strength of women through the decades and all the efforts that come together to form who we are as individuals. 20th Century Women is like a time machine that allows us to look back and perhaps see our own mother, a brother, a sister, an old friend, a first girlfriend, or perhaps, even a touch of our selves.


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20th Century Women - Movie Review

MPAA Rating: R for sexual material, language, some nudity and brief drug use
118 mins
: Mike Mills
Mike Mills
Annette Bening, Elle Fanning, Greta Gerwig
: Drama
20th Century Women
Memorable Movie Quote: "I told him life was very big, and unknown; there were animals and trees and sky and cities, music, movies and stars and colors out here, outside the box. he'd kiss, have friends, fall in love, have his own children"
Theatrical Distributor:
Official Site: http://www.20thcenturywomen-movie.com/
Release Date:
December 30, 2016
DVD/Blu-ray Release Date:
No cetails available.
Synopsis: Set in Santa Barbara, the film follows Dorothea Fields (Annette Bening), a determined single mother in her mid-50s who is raising her adolescent son, Jamie (newcomer Lucas Jade Zumann, in a breakout performance) at a moment brimming with cultural change and rebellion. Dorothea enlists the help of two younger women in Jamie's upbringing – via Abbie (Greta Gerwig), a free-spirited punk artist living as a boarder in the Fields' home, and Julie (Elle Fanning), a savvy and provocative teenage neighbor.


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[tab title="Art"]20th Century Women - Movie Review