20th Century Women is a slice of life character study that focuses on a teenage boy named Jamie (Lucas Jade Zumann) and the three women who are a major influences in his life. First on this list is his older single mother Dorothea played by Annette Bening. A woman trying to keep it all together and raise her son properly in a culture that is changing. The second is his crush Julie (Elle Fanning), an older girl that leads Jamie along while being sexually promiscuous with other boys. Lastly there is Greta Gerwig’s Abbie, a cancer survivor who is not afraid to speak her mind or push Jamie into the direction she thinks is best for him. The film takes place in the late 1970s when the country was heading into the Reagan era unaware what awaited them in the decadent 1980s.
Rather than create drama to drive the plot in 20th Century Women, Writer and Director Mike Mills choose to take a quiet and slow burn to approach to this film about women dealing with relationships and defying old school expectations society has placed on them. Jamie is the audiences’ point of view, but make no doubt. This story is all about the ladies as the title suggests especially for its lead Annette Bening. 20th Century Women is a showcase for the American Beauty actress playing a wise Mom just trying to keep her head above water while bringing up her son in the ever-changing social climate of Southern California. Bening is funny, sweet, sad and wise as the matriarch of the house she rents out to a few tenants including handyman William played by Billy Crudup providing the other male presence in the story. Bening manages to share some pivotal scenes with all the talented actors involved and outshines them all which is not small feat considered the cast involved.
Considering the action is at a minimum in 20th Century Women and the pace is quite slow at times, director Mike Mills takes a different approach to his story telling spoiling the outcome for a few of our characters’ fate fairly early in the film. This may seem like a head scratcher to some, but it lets the audience become more invested in certain characters when you know the ending. It’s fun to see them discover themselves and make life decisions when you know how things turn out for our players. This brings an added twist to 20th Century Women to help get you through film that’s a tad too long.
20th Century Women is a sluggish film that is saved by the superb acting happening on-screen and a realistic epilogue that tells us what the future holds for these characters. Elle Fanning continues to grow as an actress and sharing scenes with the talented Bening will only help her moving forward. Greta Gerwig also brings an interesting character to life who can be annoying, but you tolerate considering the sadness that has filled her life. The only person in the cast that doesn’t stand out is Lucas Jade Zumann and it definitely hurts the overall product with a central character who is hard to like with his failed attempts to fit in. Still the rest of the cast, especially Annette Bening manages to rise above the material that fails to reach its true potential.
Overall, I give 20th Century Women 2.75 out of 4 stars.
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