Mike Mills' 20th CENTURY WOMEN
A movie review by Dennis D. McDonald
With 20TH CENTURY WOMEN we are meant to identify with the trials and tribulations of a single mom (played masterfully by Annette Benning) trying to raise her 15-year-old son. There are four other quaint and curious characters on display here besides her. Her needs frequently take a backseat to their needs.
This by itself is probably a realistic portrayal of the way life works for many parents as they struggle to make their own way even as they help their children find theirs.
The movie’s focus and source of much dramatic tension is the concept of the boarding house run by the single mom. Storytellers have long employed this setting to bring together a mix of characters and personalities. Events can be set in motion that generate both conflict and (a reasonable facsimile of) romance as is done here. The characters on display take turns displaying their back stories and issues. These are punctuated by kaleidoscopically colored travel by car to different episodes and locations.
All this takes place in the 1970s as an older generation is being overtaken by a younger one. I assume this is emblematic of the filmmaker/writer's own experiences. That's fine with me; you have to place a story like this somewhere. In the 1970s rock music was taking a darker tone and stock prices were still being communicated via newspaper; it was arguably a simpler time where events played out differently from today. Would young Elle Fanning's character have needed today to climb in and out of the young man's window at night to capture some semblance of a platonic relationship while he struggles with his own transition to adulthood? Not likely, were they both equipped with smartphones and social media.
What we have is a somewhat quirky, talky, and occasionally engaging emotional melodrama set at a transitional time in history. At the end we leave the characters pretty much as we found them even though an attempt is made -- unnecessarily in my opinion -- to reveal their futures. If such stories are your cup of tea so be it. But if you are seeking some identification or bonding with more recognizable characters, you may have to look elsewhere. Or make your own movie, which is what Mike Mills has done very convincingly here.
Review copyright (c) 2017 by Dennis D. McDonald. For more reviews like this scroll down. To find out about my consulting go here.