Simple but powerful
20th Century Women (2016): The story of three women who explore love and freedom in Southern California during the late 1970s.
Before we begin, I must say this: I. Love. This. Movie. I saw it on the Inauguration Day of a certain president I'm not too fond of, and I was feeling very down and emotionally vulnerable heading into it. Well, if there was ever a pick-me-up, it would be this film. There was a quote early on in the film from mother Dorothea (played beautifully by Annette Bening) that, even though it was pertaining to love, still was poignant to our current situation. "I think having your heart broken is a great way to learn about the world." If that doesn't send chills up your spin, I don't know what will. And that was my experience with this film: while it's not perfect, it was an uplifting and unforgettable first-watch experience. Please, if you are down because of a certain someone, do yourself a favor and go see this film.
So, what makes this film so great? Let's start with the acting. Annette Bening is clearly the star here. One of the great character-actresses of Hollywood, Bening makes her presence known while never going over the top-it's a performance that won't net her an Oscar because it isn't obvious enough, but her performance is sheer and utter perfection for this film. (Looks like I was right on this one.) Equally as resonating are the performances of Elle Fanning and Greta Gerwig. I've loved Gerwig ever since she blew me away in Frances Ha, but man has Elle Fanning come a long way since her standout role in Super 8. All three of these women are spectacular, and their male figure, Billy Crudup, is excellent too. Man talk about a heck of a year for Crudup! Two years, really. Dude knows how to be in great films. But I digress.
What really hits home on this film is the story. The story is shockingly intimate, yet it feels grand in its story-telling scale. The story is primarily about Jamie (played by Lucas Jade Zumann) and his struggles as a teenager, but it really isn't. That's what I love about it! I mean heck the IMDB description doesn't even mention Jamie. Because this film is really about these three strong women and how they evolve as individuals as they try and raise Jamie together. There is so much depth to each of these three women, and to Jamie, it really was beautiful to watch them develop in their own, unique ways on screen. Director/writer Mike Mills may not earn himself any Oscar nominations, (or only one) but there's no doubt in my mind he has crafted a masterpiece of a character story here. I think the one complaint many will have lies in the ending. This film does end pretty suddenly after exactly 120 minutes, but I actually thought it went well with the theme that we are always growing as individuals and one event does not define who we are. I also must praise the beautiful and whimsical score. This score is right there with Moonlight and La La Land (I'm listening to it as I write this review) for my favorite scores of the year and is absolutely perfect for setting the mood for this film.
That said, it's not perfect. I had exactly two problems with this film. The first was in the editing. There were some distracting rainbow washes and other erratic cuts that kind of broke the intimate mold of the film. I'm sure there's an explanation for the artistic choice, but I found it distracting. I also found some of the voice-overs unnecessary. It is so hard to produce worthwhile voice-overs, and when you have people like Martin Scorsese or Shane Black who are both so good at it, it's hard to go against their formulas and still find success with it. However, at the end of the day, this film is still an awesome film and it proved to be a necessary respite for me in a certain someone's new America. Seriously. If you're feeling down in the dumps.....go see this film.
The Critique: Powerful in its intimacy, 20th Century Women features strong performances from its female leads and is one of the year's best films.
The Recommendation: If you're down in the dumps, like Annette Bening, Elle Fanning, Greta Gerwig, or Billy Crudup it is a must-see. Or if you like A24 and have to follow everything they do! Which wouldn't surprise me because A24 is awesome and has had a heck of a year!
The Verdict: 9/10 Awesome
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