20TH CENTURY WOMEN
Three women join forces to help teach a teenage boy about love, sex and freedom in California during the late 70s.
Review by Louise Keller:
Seven years after the delightfully surprising Beginners, in which Mike Mills told the story of his father (Christopher Plummer in his Oscar-winning performance) who had declared himself to be gay after being diagnosed with cancer, the filmmaker now tackles his mother's story (as played by the fabulous Annette Bening) in another exploration of the meaning of happiness. Although there are some great insights into the era (late 70s) and the struggle to counter the generation gap is effective, the film feels like a contrivance, despite Bening's superb and refreshingly 'real' portrayal, in which she shows her age with relish.
'Wondering if you're happy is a great shortcut to being depressed,' is the film's best line - as delivered by Bening, in answer to her 15 year old screen son Jamie's (Lucas Jade Zumann) line of questioning. Bening plays Dorothea, a chain-smoking romantic who enjoys watching Casablanca but struggles to find a way to communicate with Jamie. She rues she feels as though she knows him less every day.
That's when she recruits sleek blonde 17 year old Julie (Elle Fanning) and tousled red-head Abbie (Greta Gerwig) to help. It's as though all the characters are part of an unusual extended family - Julie, the pretty nymph-like neighbor who clambers through the window each night to sleep with Jamie (but there is no sex), while Abbie is a bohemian 20 something punk photographer who boards in Dorothea's ramshackle house. Billy Crudup, the handyman renovating the house, becomes drawn into a relationship with two of the women. Topics of conversation include cervical cancer, compartmentalizing things, loss of virginity, orgasms, clitoral stimulation and the mistaken ideal of freedom.
Mills creates an individual snapshot for each character - the past, early influences and motives. This approach is entertaining enough, but gives the film a fragmented feeling. Gerwig is quirky and vulnerable all at once; Fanning a little too smug; Crudup is solid. The characters are interesting, yet they mostly feel as though they are kept at arm's length. That is, with the exception of Bening, whose Dorothea is someone to whom we can totally relate - a caring, well-meaning mother with her own ideas and set of values, who wants to be close to her son.
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20TH CENTURY WOMEN (M)
CAST: Annette Bening, Elle Fanning, Greta Gerwig, Lucas Jade Zumann, Billy Crudup
PRODUCER: Anne Carey, Megan Ellison, Youree Henley
DIRECTOR: Mike Mills
SCRIPT: Mike Mills
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Sean Porter
EDITOR: Leslie Jones
MUSIC: Roger Neill
PRODUCTION DESIGN: Chris Jones
RUNNING TIME: 118 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: eOne Entertainment
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: June 1, 2017