It’s 1979, and teenage boy Jamie (Lucas Jade Zumann) is being raised by his single mother, Dorothea (Annette Bening). But there is also a lodger, Abbie (Greta Gerwig), a quirky, twenty-something, amateur photographer, pink-haired punk. Gerwig has redefined quirkiness , turned it on its head and back again until it has become her own brand of idiosyncratic acting. In other words: It is unique, indescribable and occasionally can be a bit annoying. Jamie’s best friend is Julie (Elle Fanning). Julie is a slightly older, insecure girl who spends her nights sleeping with Jamie in his bed and still wants the relationship to remain platonic. But, of course, all that Jamie wants is to have sex with Julie. The only male influence around the house is William (Billy Crudup), a handyman who lodges at the house. William and Dorothea were once lovers, but the film isn’t exactly clear on what’s the status of their relation. Dorothea feels totally inadequate as a mother. At 65, with one foot still in the past (“She’s from the Depression.”), she’s trying as best she can to understand Jamie. But he too pains to understand his mother. She asks Abbie and Julie to try to guide him. Writer-director Mike Mills’ 2010 film Beginners told the true story about his father coming out as gay at 75 years old. Christopher Plummer won an Oscar for it. Mills calls 20th Century women a “loveletter” to the women who raised him. He based the character of Dorothea on his mother, Abbie on his sister and Julie on a friend. He uses the same techniques here (voice-over narrations, film archives and photos to underline the narrations), but 20th Century women is more focus. And I found some the comedy very effective. There is a hilarious scene after suppertime at Dorothea‘s, where Abbie keeps saying the most inappropriate, embarrassing things, making the guest cringe. A perfect “crawl under the table” moment. With perfect comic timing, the amazing Annette Bening’s Dorothea is a chain-smoking, strong-willed mother with an icy quizzical stare that would scare off many people. There is talk of an Oscar nomination for her. We’ll know soon.
And the Oscar went to… I thought there was no way that Mike Mills could win for his spirited screenplay. The winner was Kenneth Lonergan’s Manchester by the sea.
20th Century women
Lucas Jade Zumann