20th-century-women-cast

This post was originally published on News Cult in December 2016.

Starring: Annette Bening, Lucas Jade Zumann, Elle Fanning, Greta Gerwig, Billy Crudup

Director: Mike Mills

Running Time: 118 Minutes

Rating: R for Frankness When It Comes to Sexuality and Drug Use

Release Date: December 28, 2016 (Limited)

In this semi-autobiographical effort from writer/director Mike Mills (Beginners, Thumbsucker), Dorothea (Annette Bening) is a single mom struggling to raise her son Jamie (Lucas Jade Zumann) by herself in 1970s Southern California. The idea that she is struggling mostly comes from her own neurotic self. But regardless of how accurate her worries are, she decides to enlist the help of some of the women in her life in the making of Jamie into a man. Her cadre includes Abbie (Greta Gerwig), a wayward boarder at Dorothea’s house, and Julie (Elle Fanning), a plainly independent teenager prone to sneaking into Jamie’s bedroom (but not doing much else once she gets there). Also on hand is the rugged and sensitive William (Billy Crudup), another boarder.

Your appreciation of 20th Century Women will likely depend on how much you can relate to this living situation, whether via experience or imagination. For me personally, I could not connect with it too deeply because I found the relationships between the main characters ever-so-slightly off-putting. They do not lack for affection, and they are thoroughly observed, but they are uncomfortable in a way that makes this film easier to merely appreciate rather than embrace.

There are a couple elements that I do want to praise without qualification. The film often evokes a dreamy, hazy quality that evokes the liberal atmosphere of the time. Splashes of vibrant color are strewn across the screen, and montages of major incidents ramp up the intensity via manipulation-of-time editing techniques. Then there is the dinner scene, in which everyone in attendance suddenly finds themselves tasked with teaching Jamie the proper way to sexually please a woman. Crudup delivers a soon-to-be-classic line of sage wisdom on that topic (don’t watch the trailer if you don’t want to be spoiled), and those who see 20th Century Women will never be the same again.

20th Century Women is Recommended If You Like: Beginners, The Kids Are All Right

Grade: 3 out of 5 Billowy Shirts

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