| The story of three women who explore love and freedom in Southern California during the late 1970s.
Whereas “Beginners” was a focused, heartwarming account of renewed familial affinity and of the painful inevitabilities that come with death, “20th Century Women,” essentially without conflict, climax, or resolution, is scattered and fragmented, like a memory or a quickly pieced-together scrapbook. Mills is welcoming of the untidiness – he doesn’t want emotional responses to arise between the travelings from plot point A to plot point B. He’s more interested in seeing how we take to his assemblage of characters, who are, without a doubt, the film’s most remarkable facets. These are the kind of fictional individuals, so hard to find in our ever crowded cinematic landscape, that think and breathe and feel; immediately after we meet them do we determine that they’ll stick with us far longer than anything else in the film. And that, people over story sentiment, is both “20th Century Women’s” biggest strength and greatest weakness.
One can suppose that it has to be foundationally strewn – it is, after all, capturing a year in the life of five fickle entities who don’t know what the hell they want out of their existence – but one can also suppose that Mills’ unwillingness to let traditional structuring make its way onto the scene prevents us from becoming as immersed in the movie as we’d like to. We adore the characters living their lives in front of us, but we never feel like much more than passing friends if only because their motivations are mounted with scattershot energy rather than intimate precision. I find Mills to be an undoubtly insightful writer and a fantastic actors’ director, but I just don’t really like his stylistic choice in this and I find his use of music very distracting and off the wall.
“Wondering if you’re happy is a great shortcut to just being depressed.”
Annette Bening gets her first real leading role in quite some time as she makes the most of it in her portrayal of the misanthropic Dorothea Fields. In a performance of exceptional nuance, Bening gets to the heart of what being a woman from the Depression-era feels like as she attempts to raise her rebellious and curious teen son Jamie with mixed results. Newcomer Lucas Jade Zumann is a revelation and holds his own masterfully well. Crudup, doing his ‘Almost Famous’ character was pleasing but hardly ever there on the page, while Greta Gerwig seemed to be in a different time period. Elle Fanning as Jamie’s love interest and sexually confused girlfriend does a fine performance.
Overall, This is a fair reflection of how life plays out, with messy cross-cutting of interests and of relationships hampered by bad timing, but these two hours seem to amble a little aimlessly as a result. I think one of the things that worked with the film was its humor. There is a lot of it, and while its not always subtle and funny a good amount of it works to make you chuckle or really laugh. Its not something I was expecting but is definitely something that made the film more memorable.
’20th Century Women’ gets a 6.8/10.
Shot on 35's Rating Sheet: 9.5 – 10.0: Excellent! 8.5 – 9.5: Fantastic, but with minor flaws 7.5 – 8.5: Great, but with issues 6.5 – 7.5: Okay, but with major issues 5.5 – 6.5: Had potential, but falls flat hard. 4.5 – 5.5: Disaster!