#REVIEW: “20TH CENTURY WOMEN”
Review by Siobhán Rich for Mr. Will Wong
Few years in recent memory have been as good for women in Film as 2016. In the latter part of the year, interesting and diverse roles for women seemed abundant. Great example of strong female roles that pass the Bechdel Test can be found in the new Film 20th Century Women. Dorothea, Julie and Abbie are as much a product of the eras in which they were born as they are the one they currently inhabit, 1979 Santa Barbara.
Born in 1924 when “the people were real,” Dorothea (Annette Bening) became a mother at 40 and has since relished the task of being friend and mentor to her son, Jamie (Lucas Jade Zumann). They live in a rundown house with her tenants Abbie (Greta Gerwig) a photographer, and William (Billy Crudup), a mechanic/handyman. Julie (Elle Fanning), who is not Jamie’s girlfriend despite his fervent wishes, is a frequent guest as she prefers to avoid her own home. Worried she is losing her touch with her son Dorothea enlists Julie and Abbie to help her raise Jamie by teaching him about life. Both women approach the task with reluctant conviction.
So much of 20th Century Women can be summed up in this exchange between Dorothea and Jamie. “It was a beautiful car,” Dorothea muses as she watches her old car go up in flames. “It’s just old,” replies Jamie. “It wasn’t always that way.” This multilayered reminder to embrace the new while always remembering the past is a theme Writer/Director Mike Mills revisits throughout the Film. From literary references to a practical guide to the punk music scene in the late 70s, Mills punctuates his dialogue with reminders that despite the very modern conversations his characters are having, this Movie is deeply rooted in the late 1970s.
Sean Porter’s cinematography is equal parts clunky and gorgeous. While the indoor scenes feel awkward and claustrophobic, the outdoor scenes, particularly of Fanning, are beautifully shot. This only serves to underline the movie’s tonal confusion about whether it is a modern drama or art house indie.
The stars of the Movie, Bening, Gerwig, and Fanning all approach their characters with a quiet dignity and subtlety. Bening’s character is described as a person who never says what she is thinking or feeling. Rather than simply playing Dorothea as an introvert, Bening fleshes out the character, grounding her chain-smoking personae with a strong foundation on which Gerwig and Fanning could construct their own characters. The Film truly shines when the three share the screen and the audience can witness a multi-generational masterclass in acting.
Feminism is a highly charged word. This simple word carries the kind of baggage airlines charge extra for. A Movie that openly discusses the subject alongside orgasms, menstruation, and the politics of all three could be called brave but should be called brilliant. As a 21st century critic, I can only advise you to make a date to see 20th Century Women.
Elevation Pictures release 20th Century Women on Friday, January 13, 2017 – Toronto and Friday, January 20, 2017 – Vancouver, Edmonton, Calgary, Winnipeg, Halifax and Ottawa.