20th Century Women, B
Rated R, 118 minutes
"20th Century Women" is the touching new dramedy from director and writer Mike Mills of "Beginners" fame. Well-acted, compelling and humorous, it's a little too leisurely at times, but it has some relevant statements on feminism.
In 1979 Santa Barbara, Calif., Dorothea Fields (Annette Bening) is a determined single mother in her mid-50s who is raising her adolescent son, Jamie (newcomer Lucas Jade Zumann), at a moment brimming with cultural change and rebellion. Dorothea enlists the help of two younger women -- Abbie (Greta Gerwig), a free-spirited punk artist living as a boarder in the Fields' home and Julie (Elle Fanning), a savvy and provocative teenage neighbor -- to help with Jamie's upbringing.
Directed and written by Mills, the well-cast and unconventional indie dramedy "20th Century Women" is a humorous, poignant look at raising a child in the "it takes a village to raise a child" method. It takes that rather seriously, and it's grounded by a memorably strong, funny turn from Bening, who'll likely see another Oscar-nomination as the earthy 50ish single parent who is trying to find a balance between being a friend and a teacher.
Bening has solid support from newcomer Zumann as her smart, curious son, whose point-of-view the film is told from, along with Gerwig as the free spirit who has some good lessons for Jamie on music and love, Fanning as the teen who wants to be more of a friend rather than a lover, and Billy Crudup as the lone (and minimal) male influence in Jamie's life.
"20th Century Women" takes its time, perhaps too much time, in a leisurely, talky tone that has Jamie going to concerts, taking road trips and reading feminist novels, providing some important life lessons as Jamie becomes a man and learning to stand on his own two feet, with the help of some important women in his life. I've always agreed that women are likely the smarter of the two sexes, and we likely undervalue their importance in our lives.
I wanted to see a few more strong, emotional scenes in "20th Century Women," but then life isn't always that way. The last act is a satisfying coda as Jaime looks back on his life to see how important these women, especially his mother, was in raising him. Worth a look for a strong, convincing Bening turn.