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20th Century Women offers Annette Bening a too-rare opportunity to shine in a leading role -- and marks another assured step forward for writer-director Mike Mills.
All Critics (213)
| Top Critics (39)
| Fresh (189)
| Rotten (24)
| DVD (1)
It's a nice film with some great moments but Mills' touch is too tentative to make all that talk buzz and hum as resonantly as it should.
Exasperatingly supercilious and smug - unfocused, self-consciously cute, nostalgic and empathetic, but never properly funny. It feels like someone else's long therapy session.
Mills's world is certainly not devoid of pain, but it's leached of bitterness, leached of conflict, leached of aggression, leached of hostility; the pain and the trauma are leached of consequence.
The film is well worth a look, if just for the performances; just know going in that director Mills calls upon his cast and script to do most of the heavy lifting.
It's a credit to Mills that he makes it feel like he's making the Earth move even when he's just capturing a snapshot in time.
"20th Century Women" takes a while to kick in but eventually finds its groove.
20th Century Women might not follow usual conventions, or tie up all its loose ends neatly, but it still manages a coherent, brilliantly witty story. One that satisfies its audience far more than similar films with happier endings.
20th Century Women is as much an examination of the there and then as it is a tonic for the here and now.
When people lament the loss of mid-budget films celebrating real people, they should hold this film up as a champion of the type of story that is both small and universal, where nothing and everything happens.
20th Century Women is one of the finest films of the year, unceremoniously buried in an awards season full of biopics and more overtly emotive dramas.
The script, also from Mills, borders on braggadocio at times. Like Abbie, it's all a touch too smug, a hint too clever, a punch too superior.
It doesn't always hit the lofty mark it clearly aspires to hit, but it is held together by one contant -- Annette Bening.
It begins dull and uninteresting but later becomes an adorable and complex film drenched in nostalgia, with a great soundtrack, an Oscar-deserving award by Annette Bening and an impressive cinematography that makes it look like it was really made in the late 1970s.
Films like this seem to be inevitable each year. A tone that is off-putting, while still telling a compelling story, making the overall film solid, but underwhelming. In my opinion, films like last year's Carol or 2014's Foxcatcher came to mind when I was watching 20th Century Women. Almost all of the subject matter was interesting to me and everyone was giving great performances, but the very slow pace and dull tone really took away from the impact. Nominated for best screenplay at the upcoming Oscars, I can see why people are raving about certain aspects of this film. That being said, I found myself bored throughout the majority of this well-made film. I feel conflicted about this film, but nevertheless, let's dive in.
From cancer to the loss of people close to you, this film explores many different aspects of the hardships of life. Focussing mostly on three women (all different ages) as they explore their lives in ways that most people do every day, at its core, 20th Century Women is really just about life and what comes with it. Taking place in only a few locations throughout the majority of the picture, it really is all about the characters at hand, which I found interesting, but also utterly boring. When a film like this is made, I always hope that every single character moves me in different ways, but everyone seemed so miserable most of the time that it just reflected in my reaction to the film as a whole.
The biggest highlight of this film was watching the character of Julie, played very well by Elle Fanning. Her character slowly transforms throughout the film and realizes that certain things are better left alone. This was a trend I noticed throughout the entire film to be honest. The younger characters seemed to have much more to work with her, while the adults all seemed dead inside. I liked watching Annette Bening in films like The Kids are All Right or American Beauty, but her performance here was very one-note in my opinion. Her expressions were either depressing to look at or happy for a instant. There were many times where I was hoping it would cut back to the younger characters quicker, because they were just simply the best portion of the film.
While I must admit that the direction is pretty terrific for the most part, the tone did not click with me. At least it was able to keep itself consistent throughout the course of the film, but the drab look just made me bored. I seem to be using the word boring a lot, but when there are no exciting moments in a film that is all about self-discovery and hardships, there really isn't anything to get excited about when talking about 20th Century Women. Now, as I mentioned, the tone itself is well-done and kept very consistent, so I was very impressed by the fact that they decided to go with a very quite route for this story. The style and editing choices really make this the definition of an indie film and I am glad this film was acknowledged in some capacity.
In the end, Mike Mills has written and directed a very compelling piece of filmmaking and I can't fault him for a second. I do however think that his script could have been translated to screen in a more vibrant and energetic way. 20th Century Women takes itself very, very seriously, leaving hardly any fun to be had. There are moments when I was hoping for lighter music to be playing or certain scenes to be trimmed down, but everything seems to be very dragged out. It's the odd case where the film itself is very good, but still has numerous minor issues that bothered me throughout. This is also a film with tremendous editing and there were times when that element alone was sucking me in. I am going to recommend this film to a mature audience, due to the fact that its themed have been well-realized and require your full attention. Overall, 20th Century Women is a solid film that could have been great.
Few films are imbued with such love for its characters. Their warmth and passions and imperfections make their 1979 Santa Barbara boardinghouse home a shangri-la, always in repair but forever whole. Writer Director Mike Mills has given us a film to cherish and hold tightly, something to squeeze when it seems like the world no longer makes sense. 20th Century Women is an argument that it does not need to, so long as you revel in the existence of those around you, even if they're temporary.
NO FEAR OF FLYING - My Review of 20TH CENTURY WOMEN (4 1/2 Stars)
I grew up in a feminist household. My mother, a dutiful doctor's wife who returned to college after raising 8 kids and became self-actualized, opened up our eyes to what a strong woman looked like. She introduced us to books like FEAR OF FLYING and OUR BODIES OUR SELVES. She threw away her apron and started wearing go-go boots, hot pants and halter tops. In her 40s and 50s, my Mom found herself, and man was she something to behold. Add sisters who challenged the patriarchy and I experienced an upbringing I wouldn't trade for anything. I was rewarded with seeing the world through a different, much more humane lens. I share this because 20TH CENTURY WOMEN, the new film by writer/director Mike Mills (BEGINNERS, THUMBSUCKER), is a distinctively feminist film, a subtle blowtorch to sexism and misogyny, and easily one of the year's best.
It's difficult to describe the story, because there really isn't a standard narrative. As much as BEGINNERS was Mills' homage to his father, 20TH CENTURY WOMEN is a love letter to his mother and the strong women who influenced his life. It's a rapturously beautiful, funny, yet very serious tribute. It tells the story of Mill's surrogate, Jamie (Lucas Jade Zumann), a teen who comes of age in Santa Barbara circa 1979 with the help of his single mother Dorothea (Annette Bening), their tenants William (Billy Crudup), a handyman, and Abbie (Greta Gerwig), a photographer who inserts herself into the art punk scene, and Julie (Elle Fanning), a classmate he wants to coax out of the friend zone.
At first, I thought the pace and timing of the scenes were lax. The performances and the dialogue are razor sharp, but Mills and his editor, Leslie Jones, allow a lot of breathing room, which seemed to weigh down the tempo. As the movie went along, however, I noticed how consistently he employed this tone and how the actors seemed keyed into it across the board. It dawned on me that in lesser hands, this would have been a snappy comedy where the female characters existed to merely entertain us with their wit. Think THE KIDS ARE ALL RIGHT. Mills goes deeper with his thoughtful tone. The women aren't clowns whose mission it is to amuse us, but are three-dimensional, complete and deep characters. Often in female driven films, the male characters get pushed to the side and come across as cardboard villains. Not here. Zumann and Crudup have multi-layered characters to play as well, contributing greatly to the overall humanity of this movie. So frequently in the past, feminist films would play to the strident extremes of the cause, but here, it's quietly, lovingly subversive. It may not be everyone's cup of tea, especially those expecting something whackier, but for those who key into its distinct rhythms, you'll may just be thrilled.
Mills uses a somewhat clinical approach in the way he introduces his characters, shifting perspective through multiple voiceovers, even using film clips and book quotes to immerse ourselves into his world view. To convey the feeling of what it was like to take a road trip in the 70s, for example, Mills speeds up the action and doctors his images of cars with an overlay of videotaped streaks of colors, which has the effect of mythologizing travel. It sure beats the indie trope of having someone wave their hand out the window. More importantly, Mills brings us one memorable scene after another, whether it's about female orgasms, the difference between BLACK FLAG and THE TALKING HEADS, or most indelibly, the normalization of menstruation. Through it all, nobody reacts in expected ways, especially Bening. She's so vivid and real, and ready to spar with anybody she encounters. I'm hoping this performance will finally garner her the Oscar she so richly deserves. She's been nominated 4 times and lost twice to Hilary Swank! It's Annette's time and not just because of her stellar career, but based on what I think is the role of her lifetime. The rest of the cast feel so natural and attuned to the script. It's a great ensemble.
There's a lovely, heartbreaking scene with Greta Gerwig where she tells her that she never gets to see her son living in the real world, but only sees how he protects his mother from those realities. What Gerwig does in return is so heart meltingly lovely. They also have a discussion about what's right for Jamie, and it feels so crucial, as if the future of mankind rested on the way these women would steer this young man. Again, there's not a whole lot of story here, and that may be a flaw or a virtue, depending on your connection with these people. For me, it's such a highly personal film, even more so than BEGINNERS. My mother was Dorothea's age when this film takes place and their fates were very similar. I loved this film's gentle but assured approach. It may feel low stakes until you realize you're experiencing something novel, a group of people actually caring about how they each can learn and grow. It all wraps up with a beautiful coda, filled with sun-dappled splendor by cinematographer Sean Porter, and an image of Bening that will literally make your heart soar. This quiet, unassuming film may just change how you feel about the women in your life, and that's quite an accomplishment.
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