20th Century Women

1979: three women. Dorothea (Annette Bening) is an older single mother of a teenaged son who she fears is missing out on some seminal influences, so she enlists his precocious friend Julie (Elle Fanning) and her free spirit\punk photographer tenant Abbie (Greta Gerwig) to “it takes a village” him.

If 20th Century Women isn’t as concerned with being an accurate reflection of the times, it’s a fucking brilliant portraiture. The characters, expertly drawn by writer-director Mike 20th-century-women-annette-benningMills, feel very much like real people because their problems are so distinct. The women don’t bleed into each other; they are each accorded with specific neuroses, anxieties, passions, and influences. We know a little about how they were born, and how they will die, but mostly we know how they are living. 20th Century Women is not plot-driven; nothing “happens” except truth is revealed through meticulous character study.

It helps, of course, to have Annette Bening on board. She’s the reason we’re watching. Her performance was nominated for a Golden Globe. I have been rooting all awards-season long for Natalie Portman in Jackie but having seen this, it will be difficult to go back. Bening treats this movie like a masterclass in acting. Nothing is showy or extraneous. In fact, some of her most brilliant times on screen are in perfect silence, with just the wrinkle of her brow or the droop of her shoulder or some awkward middle-aged dancing communicating all we need to know. Fanning and Gerwig are really quite good as well, but I only know that from the scenes which Bening sits out. If she’s onscreen, my eyes are glued to her. She’s always been this watchable, it’s just been a while since she’s had a role that was equal to her.

Mills’ affection for his characters is evident in their quirkiness. 20th Century Women is funnier than it has to be. Since I’m a strict non-talker at the movies, I tend to communicate approval through hand squeezes. I felt like I’d done a lot of squeezing by the end of the movie, even a little eye-catching and eyebrow lifting, which is probably moot in a dark theatre, but I was feeling magnanimous! ย Sean concurred, which I think is an even thumbnail_25085better endorsement for a film that couldn’t be further from his own experience. And that’s what’s so remarkable. Though its genius is in the details, the specificity of the characters, it’s all somehow very relatable. And any movie that’s also a mirror is definitely worth its salt.

24 thoughts on “20th Century Women

  1. kmSalvatore

    Wish I would have saw this earlier Jay….. weather is kinda bad today in the land of sunshine, so we went to the show … ended up seeing Lion. I was not disappointed at all. Ok, this one is written down, for next time:) sounds like my kinda flick:)


      1. Jay Post author

        Yeah, I find WordPress is flakey. I often randomly stop getting notifications even though I follow someone, and sometimes it seems to unfollow me completely!


  2. Liz A.

    The trailer for this feels so familiar to me. Having lived in SoCal (not Santa Barbara, but about two hours farther south) in 1979, the look of the piece takes me back to my childhood.


  3. Lloyd Marken

    I feel like this film might struggle to gain spotlight during awards season with some others gaining momentum. Your review in that way champions it far more than you realise. I missed my chance with Hell or High Water and am turning my attention to Manchester by the Sea and more so Moonlight. Any excitement for this film came from reading your review. Well done Jay.


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  6. reocochran

    I have always respected Annette Bening. She is an amazing, “real” actress. I enjoyed her in so many parts, probably most known as “The American President” journalist.
    Your review struck a chord with me, Jay. I like that the mother enlists others to help her raise her son, with some good acting for each character. This will be a must see on my soon to watch list! Yay, Jay! ๐Ÿ™‚


  7. CineMuseFilms

    Loved your review Jay, and couldnt agree more. I wonder how many viewers caught the casually delivered line “dont you need a man to raise a man?”, which is the point of the whole movie….the answer is NO. In fact, its men that screw up the raising of men; if more young men could be raised like lucky young Jamie, we’d have fewer wars and assaults against women (PS: male speaking).


  8. Pingback: The Large Association of Movie Blogs | Acting School 101 – May 2018 – Annette Bening

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