If there ever was a pick-me-up film, it would be this. There was a quote early on in 20th Century Women from mother Dorothea (played beautifully by Annette Bening) that, even though it pertained to love, is still poignant in any situation: “I think having your heart broken is a great way to learn about the world.” If that doesn’t send chills up your spine, I don’t know what will. And that was my experience with this film: while it’s not perfect, it was an uplifting and unforgettable first-watch experience.
If you are down because of a certain someone, do yourself a favor and go see this film.
One of the great character-actresses of Hollywood, Annette Bening makes her presence known while never going over the top—it’s a performance that won’t net her an Oscar because it isn’t obvious enough, but her performance is sheer perfection for this film. Equally as resonating are the performances of Elle Fanning and Greta Gerwig. I’ve loved Gerwig ever since she blew me away in Frances Ha, but man, has Elle Fanning come a long way since her standout role in Super 8. All three of these women are spectacular, and their male figure, Billy Crudup, is excellent too.
But what really hits home with this film is the story. The story is shockingly intimate, yet it feels grand in its storytelling scale. The story is primarily about Jamie (played by Lucas Jade Zumann) and his struggles as a teenager, but it really isn’t. That’s what I love about 20th Century Women. The IMDB description doesn’t even mention Jamie, presumably because this film is really about these three strong women and how they evolve as individuals as they try and raise Jamie together. There is so much depth to each of these three women, and to Jamie, it really was beautiful to watch them develop in their own, unique ways on screen.
Director/writer Mike Mills may not earn himself any Oscar nominations, but there’s no doubt in my mind he has crafted a masterpiece of a character story here. I think the one complaint many will have lies in the movie’s ending. This film does end pretty suddenly after exactly 120 minutes, but I thought it went well with the theme that we are always growing as individuals and one event does not define who we are. I also must praise the beautiful and whimsical score. The score of 20th Century Women is right there with Moonlight and La La Land for my favorite scores recently, and is absolutely perfect for setting the mood for this film.
That said, it’s not perfect. I had two problems with this film. The first was in the editing. There were some distracting rainbow washes and other erratic cuts that kind of broke the intimate mold of the film. I’m sure there’s an explanation for the artistic choice, but I found it distracting. I also found some of the voice-overs unnecessary. It is so hard to produce worthwhile voice-overs, and when you have people like Martin Scorsese or Shane Black who are both so good at it, it’s hard to go against their formulas and still find success with it.
However, 20th Century Women is still an awesome film and it proved to be a necessary respite for me and the troubles I carry around. Seriously, if you’re feeling down in the dumps, go see this film.