Movie Review: A24's 20th Century Women - #20thCenturyWomen

20th Century Women 
Director: Mike Mills
Writers: Mike Mills
Starring: Annette Bening, Elle Fanning, Greta Gerwig
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Hashtag: #20thCenturyWomen   

The story of three women who explore love and freedom in Southern California during the late 1970s.

20th Century Women isn’t a film for everyone.  I don’t think that it’s trying to be.  Its artsy and pensive and the title would lead people to believe that the other half of the population, men, is left out. So, that’s okay.  It isn’t going to be a blockbuster, but it is an enjoyable time for the art house film crowd.

This is probably the best I have ever seen Annette Benning.  Benning (as Dorthea Fields) is the quintessential “trying to be cool” mom who is not cool at all.  Her performance conveyed a genuine motherly love for her son (Lucas Zumann) and a desire to do right by his upbringing.  Any parent will be able to relate to the desire to be a good parent, the effort it takes to raise a well-rounded member of society from scratch, and the lengths to which parents are willing to go to accomplish both.  I appreciated that Benning was able to make the audience laugh in one scene and make us cry the next.  She has a great range as a performer, and what I enjoyed the most was Benning’s expressive face.  She has quite the knack for conveying her emotions without using words.  

Benning was the highlight.  If you were going to see this in theaters, it would be to catch all of the nuances of Benning’s performance.  But, 20th Century Women is multi-layered story, like an onion.  Some of the layers worked better than others.  I was not particularly fond of Zumann as Benning’s son.  I’m assuming that Benning’s performance was enough to make the rest of the cast pale by comparison, but I did not like the kid at all.  The kid conveyed melancholy.  That’s it.  Come on, kid, give us another emotion, or another facial expression or something.  But, he didn’t.  Most of the roles were females.  It would not have been hard for one of only two males to stand out.  And still, I was disappointed in Zumann. 

The other male, William (played by Billy Crudup) was  a hoot!  He was one of the best layers, or sub-plots, to the story. He had an effortless, bohemian feel about him that I enjoyed.  Just an interesting character, the kind of guy that makes dinner parties fun.  It was a smaller part, but Crudup played it well. 

The other women in the case were Julie (Elle Fanning) and Abbie (Greta Gerwig).  I wanted more from them.  The movie is called 20th Century Women.  He “women,” I figured, would be  Dorthea, Julie and Abbie.  But Julie and Abbie are relegated to more stereo-typical roles.  The stereotypes bothered me because both of their stories seemed like they wanted to go somewhere.  There were interesting teases for both of the characters, as if there we were going to be given a better insight to their lives, but, then, nothing happened.  The complications all involved the mother/son story instead. It isn’t so much a criticism, and much as a feeling of being let down.  And, if I had liked the son, I might have enjoyed the film better.

I still think this film makes a great moms’ night out.  It offers moms something to which they can relate.  Any parent, not just moms, who have found themselves wondering if they could do better at child rearing will leave feeling that they aren’t alone.  And Annette Benning looks great on the big screen.  20th Century Women opens Friday.

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