Overview/ Review (with Spoilers)
20th Century Women is so many things at once. It is a coming of age story, a sort of mid-life crisis, a story dealing with women in the heart of the sexual revolution and the rise of feminism. All of which it does strangely well despite splitting its focus.
Dorothea (Annette Bening) | Julie (Elle Fanning) | Abbie (Greta Gerwig) | Jamie (Lucas Jade Zumann) | William (Billy Crudup)
Born around the great depression and raising a son in her 50s, life has been interesting for Dorothea. She has a regular 9 to 5 and owns a huge home she rents the rooms out of. She is divorced but still very social. However, since her divorce, when Jamie was very young, she hasn’t seriously dated. She had flings, but never truly committed to love. Making Jamie her everything.
Though a little older than Jamie, she has heavily relied on him for some sense of normalcy and friendship. It doesn’t seem like she has female friends so Jamie ends up being the one hearing about her boy trouble or her latest sex partner. Which is a bit devastating for he has a crush on her. Something she knows but, despite knowing, she still crawls into bed with him, tells him all these stories, and non-sexually sleeps with him.
Like Julie, Abbie isn’t that close to her family and that is what led to her living in Dorothea’s home. Well, a few other things as well, but primarily her inability to deal with her family, her mother in particular. But, despite what may seem like the workings of a drab and generic story, she is quite interesting. A feminist, a punk rocker, as well as someone highly in photography. Like Julie, she has quite the impression on young Jamie.
All stories connect to Jamie somehow. This 15-year-old is learning to share his home with a bunch of strangers. Some are welcome, like Abbie who lives this and Julie who often spends the night, but then there are the others like William who often seem like Dorothea’s attempt at bringing a male influence around. Yet, in the end, Dorothea opts for Julie and Abbie to help Jamie learn how to be a man. Each trying to mold him into the man they’d like to see.
[You] don’t understand it, [you] are just a part of it.
— 20th Century Women
Excellent Mix of Comical and Dramatic
Though I only occasionally found it funny, it seems, this is an indie film which appeals to that weird New York sense of humor. But while it only made me chuckle a few times, I must say I was amused by the various situations dealing with awkward moments between Jamie and Julie, this weird moment between Abbie and William where they are roleplaying, and generally Dorothea gives you 2nd hand embarrassment as Jamie’s mom.
Though, on the flip side, there are some serious moments. They range from Abbie dealing with a scare, I won’t say of which kind, to Jamie dealing with a mom who feels she has gone from knowing everything about her kid to nearly nothing. All of which is handled without Fences type of dramatics nor having Loving’s sort of slice of life appeal. For while there are some eyebrow raising moments, like when Abbie has everyone say menstruation during a dinner party, in general things are entertaining enough to firmly remind you this is a movie but they also seem real enough to make you question if this could be based on someone’s true story.
The Tipping Point Conflict Isn’t Eye Roll Inducing
In romance films, the tipping point is one side doing something stupid and you likely know the rest. The same goes for dramas. Someone slips up, says or does the wrong thing, and after that shock, so comes the film ending as has been written dozens of times. 20th Century Women is a bit different for it doesn’t have some major blow up or mistake. At most, Dorothea realizes asking Julie and Abbie to help mold her son has perhaps gone a bit too far and she asks Abbie to tone it down. It doesn’t lead to some ridiculous fight with people cursing, reading each other’s life, and slamming doors. Nope. Pretty much she backs off but doesn’t go overboard and decides to dramatically exit afterward.
It Is An Ensemble Movie Which Doesn’t Leave A Single Person As Lacking
From telling us when everyone was born, talking about their families, to even including an epilogue at the end, this is perhaps one of the few films I’ve seen, and probably in the last 3-4 years I’m pushing more than 200, which is a low estimate, that has actually handled having multiple characters well. Usually, you find one or two who seem like they should have been the focus and the rest could have been cut with no problem. However, this film makes use of its small cast and gives each actor the chance to equally show why their career should be monitored and why their characters deserve your attention on screen. Which is, again, so rare when it comes to the plethora of movies I’ve seen.
Overall: Positive (Worth Seeing)
While I likely won’t watch this movie again, certainly no time soon, it was very enjoyable and worth dragging myself to the city. For while I may not fully grasp the hype over Annette Benning’s performance, it is because no one outshined each other. Each character was treated as important, even if Jamie seemed like the knot which bound them altogether. Making it where you don’t any desire to check your watch and when you learn this movie is nearly 2 hours long, you wish to shout “YOU LIE!” for it honestly feels like your general 90-minute movie.