In 20th Century Women, a single mother attempts to raise her son in the midst of the turmoil in her own life. She makes a decision to enlist the help of her tenants and neighbors to provide a community of thought and care for her son Jamie who is fatherless and in need of guidance. Or at least his mom thinks so. Annette Bening is fantastic as the dedicated but incredibly unstable Dorothea. The acting and characters that are created in this film make the experience better than it should be. The setting of the story is in 1979 Southern California and the movie itself has a freedom and alternative thought structure to it. The audience takes part in the lessons that a young man receives; it’s a bit different, but it’s grounded in caring and love. Greta Gerwig and Elle Fanning add to the weirdness and realness of the tale. Both are yearning for more in life and running from problems, but somehow remain heavily engaged in the lives of Dorothea and Jamie. Billy Crudup is the only man in the picture and in between fixing things around the place, he also quietly provides the support everyone needs. After taking in the film and thinking on it from afar you will see that no matter how unconventional the situation was in 20th Century Women, over time this group of people formed into an extended family. They helped each other get by during that moment in time until their lives split off in different directions. I’m sure that there are many real life situations just like this one. It’s necessary and important for people to create structures and relationships that provide stability and comfort when there isn’t any in the traditional sense.
Director Mike Mills actually pulled from his own experiences growing up and the movie is sort of semi-autobiographical. You can feel that in the details and it’s the reason he is able to bring the realism into play with his writing and directing taken from actual people and events. There are random touches of real life experiences that authenticates the setting of the story. The almost out of place inclusion of the budding punk rock scene going on in LA during that time period was a nice touch. It’s a turn not always taken and it breathes a genuine quality into the story. Mills delivers a glimpse of what it might have been like to be raised by mainly women during the 70’s in the culture and freeness of Los Angeles. It’s the artful and emotive little touches on display here that I fell in love with. When the ending comes and we see the arc of all the lives of those involved, it reminded me of people that have come and gone in my own life. There is an awkwardness about the movie and it takes a little time to warm up to the people Mills created, but once you do the payoff is fantastic. Real characters living imperfect lives together for a fleeting moment in time.
The Bottom Line: 20th Century Women is a breath of fresh air and a solid film. This was in my Top Ten films of 2016.
MovieMark Grade: B+