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Running Time:
1hr and 58 minutes

Rating: R Restricted. Under 17 Requires Accompanying Adult.

Rating Explanation:
for sexual material, language, some nudity and brief drug use

Jimmy's Buzz Guide Review:
Annette Bening gets a too-rare opportunity to shine in a leading role in this film that's as wistful and pleasant as an ocean breeze, and a message that dissipates about as quickly as the sand between your toes.

Additional Info:
Annette Bening ... Dorothea
Elle Fanning ... Julie
Greta Gerwig ... Abbie
Billy Crudup ... William
Lucas Jade Zumann ... Jamie
Alison Elliott ... Julie's Mother
Thea Gill ... Abbie's Mother Vitaly A. LeBeau ... Young Jamie
Olivia Hone ... Julie's Sister
Waleed Zuaiter ... Charlie
Curran Walters ... Matt
Darrell Britt-Gibson ... Julian
Alia Shawkat ... Trish
Nathalie Love ... Cindy

20th Century Women

Annette Bening is Dorothea. “She was in the Great Depression,” her son Jamie would say to explain away certain eccentricities. It's true, as it explains everything and nothing in one fell swoop. Earlier in the film, he paints a more fulfilling, if scattered, verbal portrait of his mid-fifties mom: “She writes down her stocks every morning. She smokes Salems because they’re healthier. She wears Birkenstocks because she’s contemporary. She read Watership Down and learned how to carve rabbits out of wood. And she never dates a man for very long.”

Bening has a greying, disheveled head of hair, and does indeed smoke like a chimney. Her character is persistent in enabling her and her son’s survival, yet completely at sea in the changing world all around her. She’s open minded, but she’ll never “get” punk rock. It will get her, though. She’s a proactive woman stuck in a reactionary role. It’s a laser-like performance by Bening, one of the year's best.

The punk rock revolution is brought into the house by pink-haired, punky cancer-sufferer Abbie, played exceptionally by Greta Gerwig. Abbie is a fragile and self-absorbed photographer/artist who’s already dismissed her own future. She clings to of-the-moment feminism and feminist theory, although she’s not militant about it. Her influence on Jamie is palpable and amusing; who knows how formative it will be.

Abbie’s sleeping with William, a man’s man and earth-mother all rolled into one sweaty, lusty, handyman mechanic/hippie (Billy Crudup). He could do better for himself if he’d learn to trust and commit. And maybe laugh at himself. For obvious reasons, he’s not a '20th century woman.' Yet, here he is. He’s got a wandering eye that betrays his soulful qualities, but those are ever undercut by his New Age and clairvoyant-y comments. He gets laughed at, but he’s also getting laid. And none of it is getting him anywhere.

William is dismissed as a possible father figure for Jamie (Lucas Jade Zumann). He is clearly the crux of the film. "I know him less every day," Dorothea matter-of-factly tells us. As an emerging young man in a wildly matriarchal West Coast household, his tendencies toward contemporary feminism and the arty side of punk rock (lots of early Talking Heads music) are also unique qualities among his friends. He soaks it all up and holds his own surprisingly well, particularly amid his hormonal frustrations with Julie, a pretty young broken flower played by Elle Fanning.

She regularly enters Jamie's bedroom through his second story window, spending the night in his bed. It's all purely platonic, much to his libidinous chagrin. She's out there messing around with other guys, then decompressing about her unsatisfactory exploits to him. Trapped forever in a very rigid "friend zone," he wants to both help her and have her. Again, the film gets this tension just right.

The pop culture and societal tapestry that informs the world of 20th Century Women is vital and well woven. Beautiful asides from sources ranging from Judy Blume to Jimmy Carter, with an assist from the great film Koyaaniqatsi, carry weight that makes their resonance in this world relatable. 

With 20th Century Women, writer-director Mike Mills has delivered one of the great late surprises of the year. Funny, resonant, universal but specific, the film may not always be comfortable, but that's what makes this coming of age semi-autobiographical piece worth seeing. Do not miss this messed-up, ugly, gloriously intoxicating American beauty. You won't be sorry.


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