20th Century Women – Film Review by Emily Elphinstone
Director: Mike Mills
Writer: Mike Mills
Stars: Annette Bening, Elle Fanning, Greta Gerwig
Every now and then, a film comes along with a quiet intelligence seen all too rarely in cinema, such is the case with 20th Century Women. Set in Southern California in the late 1970s, the film is not plot driven, but rather focused on a specific moment in these characters’ lives. It is both about everything and nothing; tackling issues of identity, sexuality, and creativity in a thoroughly modern and untraditional family unit. Though set in the 70s, the film has undoubtable contemporary relevance in a moment of political and ideological change.
At the heart of the story is the irrepressible Dorothea (Annette Bening, in possibly her greatest performance to date) who shares her dilapidated house with son Jamie (Lucas Jade Zumann), and lodgers/surrogate family Abbie (Greta Gerwig), William (Billy Crudup), and Julie (Elle Fanning.) Just as writer/director Mike Mills’ earlier film Beginners was inspired by his father, 20th Century Women is loosely inspired by his mother; but this time he creates a more complete and satisfying film.
While Dorothea works out how to raise a son on the brink of adolescence without a father figure around; Jamie tries to control his feelings for promiscuous friend Julie, in the face of an infuriatingly platonic relationship. Meanwhile, handyman William and photographer Abbie do their bit to impart knowledge (leading to an inspired scene in which Jamie shows off his knowledge of female stimulation learned from Abbie’s feminist reading list,) while struggling to find their own paths.
Cinematographer Sean Porter (Green Room, Kumiko) creates a visually stunning film, supported by Roger Neill’s score. It is an alluring sun-filled setting; and with lines that wouldn’t look out of place on a motivational poster, the film should be too polished to work. However, it somehow maintains a sense of personality as flawed as the house they live in; keeping the viewer engrossed right to the end of the satisfyingly omniscient subtitles.