If I were to say that 20th Century Women was a quirky film, which it is, that wouldn’t tell you much. So I’ll you what the woman sitting in front of me at the Spectrum Theatre in Albany told me when the lights came up: “You must really have liked the movie. You laughed a lot.” And I did.
The story line is about a 55-year-old divorced woman named Dorothea (Annette Bening) trying to raise her 15-year-old son Jamie (Lucas Jade Zumann) and keep the boardinghouse she runs from falling apart in 1979 Santa Barbara, California. One tenant, the young photographer Abbie (Greta Gerwig), is dealing with a potentially devastating medical crisis, while another, the repairman William (Billy Crudup) is seemingly enigmatic to his landlady. Julie (Elle Fanning), the 17-year-old who lives down the road, is at this home more than her own.
While these are specific people, I feel as though, in real life, I actually had met characters like these once upon a time, or maybe I WAS a character like one or more of these, especially in that era. The film meanders at times, but the actors are universally solid, especially the Bening character, who tries to act as though she’s got it all together, unfazed, understanding almost to a fault.
Some stupid review in the National Review complains: “20th Century Women is really a politically correct emotional biography of that 21st-century anomaly: a non-gender-specific male.” In fact, Mike Mills, the writer-director who had made the lovely movie Beginners, was creating a film that was a reflection of his own growing up in a female-dominated household, as he noted on Charlie Rose in December 2016.
Some movies I can say, “I’m sure you’ll like it,” or not. This film I’m not that sure about for you, but I’m glad I went.