20th Century Women (2016)
In 1979 a boy, Jamie (Lucas Jade Zuman) and his mom, Dorothea (Annette Bening), watch through the grocery store front window their car going up in flames. Later, the mom invites a fireman to her house that night for dinner. We cut to see a young girl, Julie (Elle Fanning) in some sort of teenage girl support group. Julie looks like she would rather be anywhere else than at the meeting. We cut to a young woman, Abbie (Greta Gerwig) in a doctor’s office, wearing a paper gown and getting some lab work done. She looks worried and alone.
We cut to Julie riding a ten-speed bike down a neighborhood street while smoking a cigarette. She rides her bike into the yard of the two-story house. Leaving her bike outside, she goes right in only to walk into William (Billy Crudup) taking a ceiling down. He tells her Jamie isn’t home, but she ignores him and goes upstairs. She stops in front of Abbie’s room, where Abbie is dancing to music. Abbie invites Julie in and proceeds, under protest, to take Julie’s picture, stating that she is documenting her life every day.
Jamie and Dorothea arrive home with groceries, and the entire house comes into the kitchen to greet them. Dorothea tells the group about the car fire, and the whole group is concerned for their health and safety. From this interaction, we can tell that these people care about each other, and this is not a normal living situation. It is going to be interesting to watch these people live their lives.
One of my favorite recent directors, Mike Mills (Thumbsucker, Beginners) brings us this tale of Dorothea and her home full of characters. There’s Dorothea, a 55-year-old woman who seems to be stuck in the 1960s. Jamie, her 15-year-old son who seems to be far older than he really is. William who is renovating the house and is just happy to be in Dorothea’s presence. Abbie, with her maroon hair and her ever-present camera, is recovering from cervical cancer is the other tenant of the house, though it looks as she rarely pays rent. Julie, while she doesn’t have a room in the house, she might as well, since she hates her home life and is constantly showing up to sleep in Jamie’s bed. Jamie, as any hot-blooded boy, can barely contain himself around Julie, exhibiting a big crush on her that Julie will never aqueous since they have been friends since childhood. Making matter worse for Jamie, Julie, out of either boredom or depression, sleeps around with just about anyone but Jamie.
Mills brings us into this quirky world with dialogue that is crisp and real. It’s clear that these women (inspired by his mother and sister) are important to him. It’s incredible how insightful and empathic his writing is. This is a film that is filled with quiet moments that are moving and give us insight into each character. He gives us insight into their insecurities, what they feel is their place in this world and how they got where they are at.
Elle Fanning, as the headstrong Julie, is probably the most complicated person in the film as her character speaks exactly what she is thinking. There is something wrong happening at her house, and Elle lets that hang over her character throughout the movie. Lucas Jade Zuman, as the teenage boy trying to survive in a house full of women, has great chemistry with both Fanning and especially Bening. Greta Gerwig is dazzling as Abbie, who keeps getting hit with bad situations and keeps on moving forward. Her life is moving and heartbreaking, and Gerwig is perfect for this type of part. Bening is the reason to see this film as she gives a complex and moving performance. Dorothea is trying to bring up her son as best she can, and Bening lets us see Dorothea’s compassion and anxiety over this subject. It is evident that Bening loves this character, and she gives everything to her performance.
20th Century Women is a film that will warm your heart and make you laugh. It’s a story filled with interesting women that you won’t mind spending some time with. My Rating: Full Price
My movie rating system from Best to Worst: 1). I Would Pay to See it Again 2). Full Price 3). Bargain Matinee 4). Cable 5). You Would Have to Pay Me to See it Again
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