An independent Birkenstock-wearing Dorothea Fields tries to raise her teenage son in 1979. The Punk movement is on the rise, President Carter bums the nation out with his ‘crisis of confidence’ speech and feminism becomes mainstream. “20th Century Women” is a film that feels lived in, the characters are so well realized, and the structure of the film is perfectly executed.
Dorothea Fields (Annette Bening) enlists the help of two women who are close with her son Jamie (Lucas Jade Zumann) to help raise him in this radical changing world: Abbie (Greta Gerwig), a cancer-surviving photographer who loves punk and teaches Jamie about feminism, and Julie (Elle Fanning), the sexually active intellectual friend to Jamie, although Jamie wants to be more than friends. The three together not only shape Jamie, but through the interactions they help change and shape each other. Jamie absorbs some of the experiences that he has with the three women in his life, but also makes decisions that best fit for himself.
The film manages to capture everyday life during changing times. All the characters have their own views on the world and do not try and change each other. The women give Jamie advice on how women think and act, but also how their experiences with men have changed them.
Each character has a segment in the film that displays how they got to this point in their lives. These segments are sort of like flashbacks, but they are driven by narration from that character or another character that is in the film. These segments are short, but show just enough of a backstory to all of their lives previous to 1979. As the film takes trips to different eras it compliments the segments with photo compilations that encapsulate the different eras.
The director and writer Mike Mills has crafted an incredibly touching film that captures the little moments in life that shape us as people. The conversations in the film feel natural and simple, none of the characters use vocabulary that feels pretentious or contrived. Every character has a voice, and each one is different.
The performances are great in the film, Annette Bening does an amazing performance as Fields. Watching the film one can’t picture anyone but her in that role. This character could have been kitschy, but Bening gives her a believability.
Greta Gerwig and Elle Fanning are perfect in their roles as Abbie and Julie. Gerwig is sympathetic, she is an underdog who manages to achieve what she really wants in life by the end of the film.
Fanning, a teenager like Julie, approached the character in the best, non-stereotypical way. Julie is actually one of the best depictions of a teenage girl that has been presented on screen in a while.
Zumann plays Jamie subtlety, again a great teenage character, giving the character a voice and stubbornness like the average teenager would have.
“20th Century Women” confronts issues that were prevalent in the 1970s, but also speak to today’s society. It’s a great film that will have the audience feeling warm by the end.
The views expressed are those of the writer and not necessarily those of The Torch.