20th Century Women Movie Review
20th Century Women Movie Review Metadata
Alright, I’m going to say it even though it’s very early in the season, I think 20th Century Women is one of the best films of 2017. Just starting with that right off the bat. If you like talented ensemble casts, inter-generational stories, and love empowering tales that treat women like the multidimensional characters that they are, than this film is for you.
Ironically, this was one of the most well written scripts attempting to dismantle the complexities of womanhood, and it was written by a man.
Mike Mills (writer and director) loosely based this story off of his own childhood in the 1970’s. Jamie (Lucas Jade Zumann) is a teenager growing up in Santa Barbara in 1969 with his free spirited mom, Dorothea (Annette Bening). She rents parts of their massive home in need of renovation to various tenants. Living in their sort of make shift commune are Abbie (Greta Gerwig) and William (Billy Crudup). Popping in from time to time is Jamie’s best friend (and ultimate crush), Julie (Elle Fanning). Their home seems to attract loners and together they have made an informal family dynamic with Dorothea as the matriarch. The narrator alternates between Dorothea and Jamie, as they are the center of the story. Much of the film is Dorothea trying to “understand” her unreachable son during his adolescents.
There is an obvious generational gap as Dorothea had Jamie when she was in her 40’s and is now in her mid 50’s and there is no father in the picture. It is because of this that Dorothea enlists the help of Abbie and Julie to get through to her son. As Jamie references, his mom was raised during the Depression so her ways are a bit unorthodox. The love and utter frustration at not being communicate with a loved one is a feeling that most viewers (myself included)should be able to connect with. The humor by all characters makes what could’ve been a very serious and dramatic film, a bit more enjoyable as the humor is depicted as light-hearted but often represents the pain said character is feeling.
An added layer of this film lies in the music and how it changes genres so frequently. One moment you are jamming to the Talking Heads, and the next you are being lulled in to a trance by Louis Armstrong. I suppose this was to show the vast difference between “then”, 1920’s/1930’s and the “now” when this takes place, 1979.
In addition to the music, the film itself was just so aesthetically pleasing. Shot like a true blue indie film, the colors were bright and the patterns were mix matched. Luckily the film had substance to boot. Managing to capture the signature “you just don’t understand what it’s like to be me/a teenager/ a young person” attitude that is undoubtedly uttered at any given moment anywhere on earth since the dawn of time, this story also captures the isolation and frustration in raising a young person. Annette Bening played Dorothea with the nuance of a master. Showing her vibrato and underneath that, her insecurities came to the light bit by bit. Greta Gerwig made Abbie’s feisty feminist ideals with perfect conviction, and Elle Fanning made the troubled Julie, a character that you may feel frustrated with, but ultimately want the best for.
The thing that I loved most about 20th Century Women was the depiction of gender roles. Dorothea was the head of the household, William was very skilled carpenter and artist who happened to be sensitive and empathetic, and Jamie spends as much of the film researching what it is to be a woman, as he spends coming in to manhood. If you ask me, the lessons Mr. Mills took away in the 20th century are very much applicable to all people in the 21st century and beyond.