Friday, January 27, 2017

Movie Review #559: "20th Century Women" (2016)

Director: Mike Mills
Rating: R
Running Time: 1 hour, 59 minutes
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A woman (Annette Bening) tries to connect to her teenage son (Lucas Jade Zumann) with the help of her tenant (Greta Gerwig) and her son's friend Julie (Elle Fanning) in 1979. 

"20th Century Women" is written and directed by Mike Mills, who is known for the films "Beginners" and "Thumbsucker." This is a slice of life drama/comedy about a 55-year-old woman named Dorothea, played by Annette Bening, her 15-year-old son Jamie, played by Lucas Jade Zumann, and the other two most influential women in his life, Abbie, played by Greta Gerwig, the 30-something art student and photographer renting a room in their house, and Julie, played by Elle Fanning, Jamie's best friend whom he loves, though she doesn't like him in that way. It all takes place in 1979, which was not only a coming-of -age moment for Jamie, but a turning point for the entire country as it was about to enter the consumer-driven, materialistic age of the 80's.

This is a magnificently acted film. Annette Bening puts of an Oscar worthy performance, and we personally think it's a real shame she was not recognized for her efforts here. It is a very understated and nuanced performance as she is a woman who wants to grow and change, but is still a little stuck in her old ways. Dorthea is smart, but also has a lot to learn about the ever-expanding world around her. She invites strangers and minor acquaintances to dinner parties to her house, but doesn't understand why Black Flag is so popular with the youth of 1979. She seems to be settled and fine without a man but she surrounds herself with people just to the point where she'll never truly be lonely. She and her son Jamie have a strained relationship being that he is 15 years old and is a tad rebellious. Because of this, she has asked two other important women in his life to help out, which leads us to another stellar performance given by Greta Gerwig. Her character Abbie is the young, free-spirited feminist photographer renting a room from Dorthea. Though she is still playing slightly to type as a New York educated artist, Gerwig is able to expand beyond that role to give an incredibly heartfelt performance which, again, we're shocked and saddened didn't get recognized at the Oscars this year. Billy Crudup plays William, another tenant in Dorothea's home. He also puts on an excellent performance as a hippie type who likes to work with his hands. Finally, Jamie and Julie, played by Fanning, have an excellent rapport as friends, even though Jamie wants to be more than that and it's causing a strain on their relationship as well. They are both excellent together and apart, and we're continually amazed by how great Elle Fanning is as an actress.

"20th Century Women" is an extremely progressive film that doesn't shy away from discussing any and all. As Abbie and Julie begin to share their lives with Jamie, its characters frequently reference menstruation, sex, what makes a man a man, what makes a woman a woman, loneliness, happiness, clitoral stimulation, feminism, and other such subjects, which we think makes for an extremely unique movie going experience and serves to break down barriers of these once taboo happenings. Mills uses a lot of really interesting camerawork and other artistic techniques to explores these themes and each character's past and future through little montages and segues. Altogether, this is an exceptionally put together movie.

Overall, this is a very engaging film, though it can be a little slow at times due to its lack of a straightforward narrative. Because of this, the film does meander a bit, but if you can get past this, it is a fantastic indie movie with brilliant performances made for a forward-thinking crowd. Mike Mills has truly crafted something special in this semi-autobiographical film.


My Rating: 8.5/10
BigJ's Rating: 8/10
IMDB's Rating: 7.7/10
Rotten Tomatoes Rating: 90%
Do we recommend this movie: Yes!

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