Saturday, January 21, 2017

"20th Century Women" Is An Insightful Delight


  Even though 20th Century Women is set in the past, by the time it was over, it got me to reflect on my current present. It got me thinking about how those around me feel the need to fill an invisible void in my own life. The characters also talk about what may await them in the future which is also something I have pondered. So 20th Century Women carries a lot of insightful humanism along with its moments of joy and wit.

  Set in Santa Barbara back in 1979, 20th Century Women follows the story of a single mother named Dorothea played by Annette Bening who lives with her teenage son Jamie (Lucas Jade Zumann) and tries to figure out ways to guide him into the real world. By doing so, she has two generations of women: Abbie (Greta Gerwig), a tenant in their home who works as a photographer, and Julie (Elle Fanning), Jamie's rebellious classmate, give him their own forms of guidance as they all explore love and freedom.

  The film has a fitting title because this film belongs to the women. Annette Bening delivers another winning performance in impressive career as Dorothea, weaving in layers of magnetic warmth and contradictory reclusiveness. She appears all laid back and open yet she'll suddenly pull away when she lights and hoists a cigarette, calmly saying "You don't know what I'm feeling." Elle Fanning is a standout as the promiscuous Julie who always feels like she has everything and everyone figured out at her young age even though she's slightly oblivious to the feelings of those around her.

   As amazing as those two were, though, the MVP was Greta Gerwig who had a revelatory year with Jackie and this. As Abbie, a punk rock photographer who is also a cervical cancer survivor, Gerwig flawlessly acts as a bridge between the two generations of women, showcasing childlike abandon and wise yet hardcore femininity. I also really liked Lucas Jade Zumann who holds his own against his experienced female co-stars. He provides immense likability and I look forward to seeing where his career goes in the future.

   The humanism that these characters possess is thanks in large part to writer/director Mike Mills. Much like with his previous feature, Beginners which won Christopher Plummer his overdue Oscar, Mills has shown a knack for inducing cinephilic flare into a humanistic story. The editing and some of the writing is very snappy. Sometimes it'll be fast paced while other times, the film will cut to shots of a newborn baby, TV footage from the 60's or 70's, or a moving sketch to help create a rather philosophical tone. The snappy editing makes the film appear rather aimless. But the film still has an aim for character driven storytelling and it succeeds thanks to the actors and the way their characters were written.

   So in spite of its seemingly aimless nature, 20th Century Women is still a delight to watch thanks to the terrific performances as well as its 70's nostalgia. It might not be perfect but it is a perfect demonstration of life and its imperfections.

Grade: B