20th Century Women (2016)
Cast includes: Annette Benning (The Kids Are All Right), Elle Fanning (Ginger & Rosa), Greta Gerwig (Mistress America), Billy Crudup (Almost Famous), Lucas Jade Zumann (Chicago Fire)
Writer/Director: Mike Mills (Beginners, Thumbsucker)
Genre: Light Drama | Comedy (118 minutes)
Santa Barbara, 1979… the fire in the grocery store parking lot makes an eerie glow. “That was my husband’s Ford Galaxy,” Dorothea says, watching her car go up in flames. In a voice over, she tells us she was 40 when she had her son Jamie, now 15. Her husband left when the boy was young and only calls anymore on birthdays and Christmas. “It’s always been a great car,” says Dorothea. “Mom, it smelled like gas and over heated. And besides, it was really old.” Oh, well… the firemen were nice though, and Dorothea invites them to her birthday dinner later today. “What kind of person invites the firemen to a birthday party?” But they were so nice! Dorothea and Jamie live in a very big old house with a checkered past. Dorothea sees real potential and has hired William, who lives with them to restore the house. (That's going slowly.) The partially restored house has 2 other boarders… 17-year-old Julie and 20-something Abbie. Julie has her own room, but she likes sleeping with Jamie. “It was easier before you got all hormoney.” (Guess that’s what happens with 15-year-old boys.) Abbie is trying to get her life back on track, but there are so many challenges… anyway, why is it so hard to talk about menstruation at a dinner party?
Jamie tells us Dorothea “smokes Salems because she thinks they’re healthier, wears Birkenstocks and never dates a man for very long,” He just wants her to be happy, but Dorothea wonders if ”worrying about being happy is just a great shortcut to being depressed.” In the meantime, Dorothea worries that she’s not providing her son the masculine influence he needs. Having William around is supposed to help, but seriously… William has a hard time talking about anything other wood and doors. So Dorothea has a sit-down with Julie and Abbie to enlist their help. “I’m his friend… not his mommy,” says Julie. “I can’t be there with him, and he needs to learn how to be a good man,” Dorothea explains. “Don’t you need a man to raise a man?” asks Abbie. “No.” Dorothy doesn’t think so.
“You asked them to help me!” Jamie is incredulous when he finds out. But deep down, he thinks he understands. “You’re just feeling guilty because it’s just you and me.” “You don’t know what I’m feeling!” The house is an odd mix of free spirits, misfits, hard-core feminists, non-communicators and over-communicators. The film is a seemingly aimless assemblage of scenes and plot point with many charming moments. For moviegoers who enjoy nuggets of philosophical wisdom, 20th Century Women will give you some gems to ponder… even if the title of the film is a bit of a head-scratcher. Despite the A-list cast and the relatively mainstream distribution, this film will appeal mostly to fans of independent films. Its parts are better than the whole, and it drags a bit. Thankfully, Abbie is getting a handle on things… “Just know, whatever you people think your life is gonna be like… it isn’t gonna be anything like that.” A true nugget of wisdom indeed!
2 popped kernels
A free-spirit single mom enlist 2 young women to help her teenage son become a good man
Rated: R (Sexual Content)
Gender Style: Sensitive
Distribution: Mainstream Limited Release, Art House
Tempo: In No Hurry
Visual Style: Unvarnished Realism
Nutshell: Free-spirit women and teenage boy
Language: True to life