Director Mike Mills has a way with women. His new film 20th Century Women, coming some six years after Beginners in 2010, has been described as a love letter to his mother. But it is also a portrait of a time and place, and a collection of people perched on the edge of enormous change.
It is 1979, the last staggering breath of the 70s era of drugs, sex, and social revolution is about to give way to the big bold 80s. This transitional moment is embodied by Jimmy Carter’s infamous Crisis of Confidence speech. But inside this larger moment in history, smaller crises are also taking place.
Dorothea Fields (Annette Bening), draftsperson, landlady and quasi-free spirit, is a den mother for a collection of random souls who inhabit her crumbing boarding house. The residents include Abbie (Greta Gerwig), a young photographer recovering from cervical cancer, hippy dude handyman William (Billy Crudup), who supplies both hammer and other tools to the women of the house, and Julie (Elle Fanning), a teenage temptress of sorts, who shares a bed with Dorothea’s son Jamie.
Jamie (Lucas Jade Zumann), aged 15, is trying to navigate the shifting waters of incipient manhood, with the help of the women of the household, who offer advice in the form of 70s tomes Our Bodies, Ourselves and Sisterhood is Powerful. Their insistence on the importance of the clitoral orgasm mostly helps Jamie to catch a beating from other teenage boys. Still, the kid perseveres, desperate for the badges of age and experience.
20th Century Women is a dawdle of a film — it wanders about like a big shaggy dog, stopping for a look here and a sniff there. But inside this rambling narrative are delicate curlicues of story, whether it is Abbie introducing Jamie to the joys of Devo and dancing, or Dorothea smoking and checking her stocks. Despite its meandering ways, the film is solidly anchored by Bening’s extraordinary performance. She imbues Dorothea with complexity, humour and a puzzled fragility that undercuts her kookiness.
A certain kind of autumnal joy, golden in the centre, and crepuscular at the edges, lingers long after the film’s final resolution. It is a feeling of recognition, of time moving on, even as people — lovers, friends, parents and children – come together to bang out a makeshift version of understanding and bittersweet commiseration. — Dorothy Woodend
Anne Brodie: Annette Bening is the matriarch of a family of blood and love in a challenging yet warm hearted comedy drama. Its lived-in, rumpled, intimate and imbued with universal emotions and the certainty that love heals. 20th Century Women is richly rewarding.
Thelma Adams: In 20th Century Women, Annette Bening redefines what it is to be an actress over forty – okay 58 – while gunning for an Oscar as Santa Barbara single mum Dorothea. Set in 1979, that charged, unstable moment where women’s roles in society are changing with dizzying speed. The forward-thinking Dorothea attempts to craft a life of integrity and raise a son. Then, as now, the critical question of how liberated women will juggle individual opportunity with the obligations of home and childrearing remains open. As the old paths crumble, the new way out of the forest has yet to be cleared. It’s a metaphor that this working mother owns a beautiful old house in a constant state of renovation. Read Thelma’s profile of Annette Bening and interview with Greta Gerwig
Nell Minow: Mike Mills pays tribute to the complicated, thoughtful, perfectly imperfect women who raised him in a film with beautiful performances and a deep humanity.
Candice Frederick: We finally have a good film that explores what it looks like to raise a male feminist, particularly during this crucial era.
Jennifer Merin: 20th Century Women is a thoroughly engaging film focusing on three strong women who are striving to take charge of their inner and outer environments. Performances by Annette Bening, Greta Gerwig and Elle Fanning are perfect in their blend of pathos and quirkiness. Pure heart. A must see.
Leba Hertz: Annette Bening once again gives an Oscar worthy performance in this intriguing period piece,
Sheila Lynn Roberts: Annette Bening reminds us once again what an amazingly talented artist she is in Mike Mills’ perceptive multi-generational story about three women that explores aging, the sexual revolution, and female empowerment in late 1970s Southern California.
Elizabeth Whittemore: Writer/Director Mike Mills knows women. He appreciates the ins and outs, the nuances of age and stage and the humor in everyday life. With a dream cast lead by the incomparable Annette Bening, you’d be hard pressed to find a flaw in her portrayal of single mom wanting to school her son the ways of the female species. Filled with generational perspectives of feminism in 1979, 20th Century Women is an instant classic and sure to garner Bening another Oscar nod in the very least. Full Review
Title: 20th Century Women
Director: Mike Mills
Release Date: January 20, 2017
Running Time: 118 minutes
Principal Cast: Annette Bening, Greta Gerwig, Elle Fanning, Billy Crudup
Screenwriter: Mike Mills
Production Companies: Annapurna Pictures
AWFJ Movie of the Week Panel Members: Thelma Adams, Anne Brodie, Betsy Boxdech, Candice Frederick, Cynthia Fuchs, Pam Grady, Leba Hertz, Cate Marquis, Jennifer Merin, Nell Minow, Perri Nemiroff, Sheila Lynn Roberts, Liz Whittemore, Jeanne Wolf, Dorothy Woodend
Written by Dorothy Woodend, edited by Jennifer Merin, social media by Sandra Kraisirideja