• Guy Jeffries

20th Century Women Review


Director: Mike Mills

Starring: Annette Bening, Elle Fanning, Greta Gerwig, Billy Crudup, Lucas Jade Zumann.

Score: Roger Neill

Mike Mills directs a simplistic, semi-autobiographical story about how three women interact with the ever changing world of the late 1970s in Santa Barbara, California. I could dare to say it's central to Annette Bening's character, Dorothea, a middle aged, seemingly liberal, single mother, who shares her house with a few other people, and as a result, has a often conflicting influence on her teenage son, Jamie.

Mills' early filmmaking background is essentially from commercials and music videos, having worked with electronica artists such as Moby, Yoko Ono and Air, who incidentally named a song after him on their Walkie Talkie album having filmed their tour, Eating, Sleeping, Waiting and Playing back in 1999. And his experience is displayed here in this film, with music being a strong theme of the unveiling of the story.

Interesting, I found Jamie (Lucas Jade Zumann) to be the pivotal character of the film. The 15 year old teenage boy who is, somewhat forced to identity himself by the influences put upon him by his concerned mother. These influences come from Julie (Elle Fanning), his older "girlfriend" of 17 who appears bored and uses sex as an attempt of self gratification, just not with Jamie. There's Abbie (Greta Gerwig) the twenty-something, punk-rocking photographer who rents a room in the house, who is damaged yet experimental and rather liberated as a result. And then there's William (Billy Crudup) the rather open-minded handyman/mechanic who also rents a room from Dorothea. Each having sound advice and experience for the young man.

There's a brilliant and genuine narrative style, where the characters give voice overs, telling us about themselves. Basically the actors describing the characters background almost to a degree of documentary. This gives the film depth, personality and a sense of realism that is almost spiritual and liberating, giving us a snapshot of what life was like before the rush of the eighties and everything after that, reminding us that society wasn't all that different back then.

There's great performances from the entire cast, each portrayal being naturally brilliant fitting their roles perfectly. Rightly nominated for best original screenplay at this year's Oscars, written by Mills himself, I feel it should have been received more recognition and believe this is going to be one of 2017's hidden gems that will get overlooked by most.

Unsurprisingly, it has an awesome soundtrack with a mixture of musical influences from that era. But it's Roger Neill's soothing ambient score that's outstanding here. "Santa Barbara, 1979" sounds like an intro to a Who song and "Modern People" really captures the transition of the times, reminding me of the futuristic music I would listen to from that period, like Brian Eno, Tangerine Dream and Jean-Michel Jarre.

There's an interesting display of empathy, understanding, misunderstanding, and the strive for happiness, a place in the world, but ironically isn't where you end up, showing us that no matter how hard we try to be something or someone, we are all ultimately flawed in some way, and that it's okay to be that, to be ourselves. It reminds us that parents are just ordinary people trying to make the best of parenthood and life, same as everyone else, just at a different stage in their lives and that we're all just fumbling through life the best we can, continually trying to figure out who we are and what we want, and that it's never too late.

It's a graceful and elegant, bittersweet drama, beautifully scripted and executed. a smart, funny, entertaining and thought-provoking wonderment of life, that's warming and refreshing to watch.

Running Time: 9

The Cast: 9

Performance: 9

Direction: 9

Story: 9

Script: 9

Creativity: 9

Soundtrack: 9

Job Description: 9

The Extra Bonus Point: 0

Would I buy the Blu-ray?: Yes.

81% 8/10

#MikeMills #AnnetteBening #ElleFanning #GretaGerwig #BillyCrudup #LucasJadeZumann #RogerNeill #MattyCardarople