THE STORY - In 1979 Santa Barbara, Calif., Dorothea Fields is a determined single mother in her mid-50s who is raising her adolescent son, Jamie, at a moment brimming with cultural change and rebellion. Dorothea enlists the help of two younger women -- Abbie, a free-spirited punk artist living as a boarder in the Fields' home and Julie, a savvy and provocative teenage neighbor -- to help with Jamie's upbringing.
THE CAST - Annette Bening, Greta Gerwig, Elle Fanning, Lucas Jade Zumann & Billy Crudup
THE TEAM - Mike Mills (Director/Writer)
THE RUNNING TIME - 118 Minutes
THE GOOD - A fantastic ensemble led by Annette Bening finds depth, emotion and humor in Mike Mills's fabulous snapshot of life in 1979 California.
THE BAD - The film starts to drag a bit towards the end.
THE OSCAR WINS - None
THE FINAL SCORE - 8/10
By Matt N.
Writer/Director Mike Mills proves that he is the real deal with his latest film "20th Century Women." As we witness his growth as a filmmaker, it becomes evident that Mills is destined to win an Academy Award someday in either the writing or directing field. Possibly even both. He has shown a knack for conjuring realistic performances from his actors that feel complete and humanistic. His pacing and visual eye are also a step above your average indie director and with "20th Century Women" he announces to the world very loudly that he is not to be taken lightly.
It's 1979 in Santa Barbara California and the times are changing rapidly. For Dorothea Fields (Annette Bening) they are changing towards an era where the youth of the country is resorting to counter-culture, punk music, rebellious actions such as drugs and sex and all she can think of is how to properly raise her teenage son Jamie (Lucas Jade Zumann). Dorothea is a single mother, well into her 50's, and is running an entire home with the aid of her tenets Abbie (Greta Gerwig), a free-spirited photographer with red hair and William (Billy Crudup), a mechanic that is the only other male who Jamie could possibly view as a father figure. Dorothea enlists the help of all three of them to help her raise Jamie, including his childhood friend and the woman he has a crush on Julie (Elle Fanning), who is closer in age to Jamie but who finds herself attracted to other men. As Dorothea struggles to raise her son, all of their lives become weaved through their own struggles, hopes, dreams and desires for what they all want out of life.
"20th Century Women" is all about the women. If the Oscars were handed out today, I would give Greta Gerwig, Annette Bening, and Elle Fanning the Best Supporting Actress Oscar in a three-way tie. The humanity and liveliness with which they imbue their characters radiate a huge smile on the viewer's face. It's simply a joy to watch these actors have fun, experience complex human emotions and grow as characters. The men are also up to the task as well. Both Billy Cudrup and Lucas Jade Zumann give naturalistic performances as well that are at times enlightening, honest and convincing. There is no true standout in my opinion despite Lucas Jade Zumann being the screenplay's lead, this is everyone's story.
And that is where Mike Mills comes into play. "20th Century Women" perfectly captures a time, a place, and the people who occupied that place. Their lives may appear ordinary and not that interesting at first, but the beauty of the screenplay is that all of life is interesting. The characters are having to confront each other just as much as they must confront the changing times of the country during the tumultuous period of the 70's into the 80's. The colors of the environment pop with an energy and excitement that is backed by throwback punk music of the time. And the film's flow is aided greatly by an upbeat editing style that highlights photographs from the era as well as sped up time lapses which help to give the film a unique feel. Simply put, Mike Mills is interested in making "20th Century Women" more than just what it appears as on the page.
With a terrific ensemble and a sense of artistry and desire for naturalism, Mike Mills's "20th Century Women" is a big step forward for the indie filmmaker. The only gripe that I have with the film is that it does start to lag towards the end but that is mostly due to the film pulling out all of the stops from the opening frame all the way until the last. When a big defining moment occurs for Jamie, there is still a few more minutes left where you're left wondering how much more story Mike Mills has to tell. He wraps up his story of these fascinating characters with a voice over narrated montage that would feel lazy in another filmmaker's hands. But at this point in this career and as you watch "20th Century Women" you'll realize that Mills is not just another filmmaker. We are indeed witnessing the growth of a true artist, one who can shine a light on our deepest fears, hopes and translate them to the silver screen.