20th Century Women
By: John Delia
The coming of age movie 20th Century Women takes a look at life askew in the late 70’s for a single mother of a teenage boy. Nicely written, the film features very good performances directed by a filmmaker that has lived the age of the boy during the time period. Unsuccessful for two Golden Globes, it’s now in the hands of those who may make 20th Century Women an Oscar winner.
Single mother Dorothea Fields (Annette Bening) finds her life getting a bit overwhelming with her 15-year-old son Jamie (Lucas Jade Zumann) coming of age. In addition, she’s making an attempt at physically keeping her house in order although adjusting to the changing times has become a chore. Her son’s best friend and schoolmate Julie (Elle Fanning) happens to be two years older, yet finds him a solid shoulder and her safety net. Sneaking over to Jamie’s house at night, she sleeps in his bed platonically avoiding Jamie’s sexual urges.
Things start getting a little chaotic when Dorothea rents a room to 24-year-old Abbie (Greta Gerwig), a free spirited young lady who lives to be a photo artist. She’s unsettled in her life and has been told she has cervical cancer, but she still lives like life will never end for her. In this study of life in the 70’s, stirring the pot is William (Billy Crudup) who slides into the story as a handyman who accepts a fixit job from Dorothea. Old enough to be a catch for Dorothea, yet young enough to teach Julie a few sexual lessons, he floats in and out of the storyline mudding up the waters.
Writer and director Mike Mills does a good job of transporting his talent back to the past where pop and new wave music are clashing. Women are becoming more independent and the number of single mothers on the rise. Mills inserts a lot of historical scenes to set the tone and then throws his characters into the mix. It’s a good ploy and it works with 20th Century Women. The film, while an Oscar’s longshot for Best Original Screenplay, has the most diverse plot of the competition.
Dorothea is probably one of the best roles that Annette Bening has played in many years. With her only child a 15-year-old becoming a man, she has doubts on her own future. The house has run down, she has had to take on borders and she realizes a loss of control. I really like her character here as she plays Dorothea loose and sometimes out of control much like her freewheeling role in The Kids Are All Right. She was nominated for Best Actress Golden Globe, but missed out for shot an Oscar for 20th Century Women.
Elle Fanning takes on the brave roll of Julie, a promiscuous teen that falls for an older man. She comes on as more timid than loose, but it’s her friendship with Jamie and an interlude with William that opens her up to a new beginning. Fanning has been keeping a high profile with roles coming to her nearly every year since she stated acting in 2001. She received her biggest push with Maleficent as Aurora before getting this juicy role that’s more precocious than anything previous.
20th Century Women has been rated R by the MPAA for sexual material, language, some nudity and brief drug use. The film spools out a little slow with some repetition and predictability, but not to the point you are grinding your teeth.
FINAL ANALYSIS: An Oscar contender but a longshot against the competition. (B)