1979 Santa Barbara, California: Dorethea Fields (Annette Bening) is a single mother in her mid-fifties raising her teenage son, Jamie (Lucas Jade Zumman), at moment in our history that oozes political unrest and social change. To help with his upbringing, she recruits two younger women to her cause. The first is Abbie (Greta Gerwig), a free spirit punk musician living as a boarder in the Fields’ residence. Secondly, there’s Julie (Elle Fanning), a streetwise and forward-thinking teenage neighbour. 20th Century Women is a story about the trials and tribulations of life, how one woman struggles to raise her son in a changing world and a how a teenager lives without a male father figure to guide him.
Mike Mills has a hit a six out of the ground with his latest film, 20th Century Women. With the help of a stellar cast, including Annette Bening, he has made a movie that is really relevant in the today. Much alike the 1970s, here in the 21st century, the winds have changed and we’re on the dawn of a new era. Semi-based on his childhood, this is an emotionally moving film that discusses concepts, such as gender, music in society and consumerism.. Concepts that are still being debated to this day.
The three women, Dorothea (Bening), Abbie (Gerwig) and Julie (Fanning) become the primary influences in Jamie’s life. Mother, Dorothea, was born in 1924 and grew up in the Great Depression. She’s a product of the 1940s and 1950s, leading a bohemian-esque lifestyle, renting rooms out to a punk-loving photographer called Abbie, and a mechanic called William (Billy Crudup). Mills (Beginners) has thrust us into a setting that will be identifiable to many people, even if they were not around in the time. Things happen that audiences of all ages can relate to. There’s no plot twists and shocks but they are interesting characters. I couldn’t ask for anything more.
Mike Mills’ stand-in is young Jamie. He’s in a crisis with his life, much alike America in 1979, as families gather around the television to watch Jimmy Carter’s moving ‘Crisis Of Confidence’ speech, a speech that can be applied in today’s world as well. This speech was at a dawn of a new era, with actor Ronald Reagan newly elected, soon to start his term in 1981. Does Jamie need to live under this regime? The three figures in his life think about whether he needs to be policed, or free to be himself as the 80s dawns.
“Does it take a man to raise a man?” says mother, Dorothea. The movie disagrees with this statement but it does show that young men can go into crisis with an absence of a male figure to connect with. William (Crudup) is too “earthy” so Dorethea recruits Julie and Abbie to monitor Jamie’s development. Jamie is in love with Julie but she’s two year older than him. She’s a product of therapy and longs to be a woman, She teaches Jamie how to act around women and explains why she sleeps around, even though she only enjoys it half the time.
Then we have the eccentric Abbie, a photographer learning to live with the effects of cervical cancer. She’s philosophical and teaches Jamie how to woo women by telling him say things like “age is a bourgeois construct.” She is very deep and honest. Through her, Jamie learns how to talk to women (chat them up) but he also learns about punk. In many ways, Abbie reminds me of Edge Of Seventeen’s Krista (Hailee Steinfield), a girl out of time yet she is very much in-tune with her generation. She’s an “old soul” with a foot in the door of today’s young people.
Most importantly, there’s Dorothea. She’s an fun-loving 55-year old who peers over the stocks every morning, smokes Salem cigarettes because they’re healthier (sure…) and never dates a man for long. This is a story full of memory, golden ones at that, and it’s through Jamie that audiences see what makes a modern man. 20th Century Women is a well-shot comedy drama which shows us that we shouldn’t be tied to gender constructs and it’s okay stick it to the man.