20th Century Women (2017)

http://www.20thcenturywomen-movie.com/

In 1979 Santa Barbara, California, Dorothea Fields is a determined single mother in her mid-50s who is raising her adolescent son, Jamie, at a moment brimming with cultural change and rebellion. Dorothea enlists the help of two younger women – Abbie, a free-spirited punk artist living as a boarder in the Fields' home and Julie, a savvy and provocative teenage neighbour – to help with Jamie's upbringing.

The year is 1979 and Dorothea Fields finds herself in her 50s raising a teenage boy, Jaime, while running a house in Santa Barbara that is always going through renovations. Jaime’s father is not in the picture but who needs a father when your mother rents rooms to a handful of particular individuals ranging from different generations. Director Mike Mills casts three powerful actresses, Annette Bening, Greta Gerwig and Elle Fanning, to fill the roles of the different women in Jaime’s life and they help create three compelling female characters that pulls you in. The problem? These three exceptional characters are subsided for a coming-of-age narrative that fails to compare to the women that help raised it.
> Set in Santa Barbara, the film follows Dorothea Fields (Annette Bening), a determined single mother in her mid-50s who is raising her adolescent son, Jamie (newcomer Lucas Jade Zumann, in a breakout performance) at a moment brimming with cultural change and rebellion. Dorothea enlists the help of two younger women in Jamie's upbringing - via 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.
Being a single parent is tough, it is even tougher when your son is a teenager dealing with romances, the freeing energy of punk music and playing games which entails panting real hard while someone pulls on their diaphragm. After a trip to the hospital, Annette Bening’s Dorothea realizes she might not be able to raise her son by herself and requests the aide of the different women in Jaime’s life. Dorothea does not need help with the physical needs of raising a child in providing shelter and nutrition but the psychological needs of raising in a child in providing the knowledge about life, women and what it means to be a man. Each female was born in a different generation and dealing with their own issues that life has handed them and this leads to Jaime becoming that much more confused about life.
Annette Bening is absolutely fantastic as Dorothea and you grow a connection with her because Dorothea isn’t developed as a motherly character but as a human. It isn’t all Dorothea’s fault as she was raised during the Depression as Jaime loves to points out. She put a barrier around her and her son when his father left and this is shown through her moments of conservatisms despite being a free spirit of sorts. She tasks these females with a job that she should be doing but that doesn’t mean she is taking a step from the spotlight. She joins them to a trip to a punk rock club so she could not only understand her son but these females as well.
The first to tackle the challenge of raising Jaime is Greta Gerwig’s Abbie who is influenced by feminism, punk music and photography. Abbie uses the first two influences to help guide Jaime into an understanding of what it means to be a man. As titles such as Our Bodies, Our Selves and Sisterhood is Powerful find a way onto Jaime’s lap and words such as clitoris stimulation and menstruating find a way into Jaime’s ears, Abbie’s attempts to help Jaime define what a man is by allowing herself define herself through a the perceptive of past males in her life.
This is a trend that could be found in all three women as Ellie Fanning’s Julie uses her promiscuity to rebel against her therapist mother and the world. Ellie, who is closest to Jaime’s age, is the last one to tackle the task given to her and if she wasn’t already sneaking into Jaime’s bed every night, she probably would have avoided the task altogether. Jaime yearns for Ellie and she informs him that he just wants the idea of her. Jaime is confused, after all he is a teenage boy, and all the hormones and feminist literature is not helping.
The definition of what a man and woman is changes every generation. My great grandfather would tell me that a man buys a woman flowers, write her love letters and a bunch of other things males in 2016 no longer consider tasks a man does. Three different females are attempting to define these terms through the scope of their generation and how their generation saw it and unfortunately, majority of those definitions are no longer validated for Jaime’s generation.
20th Century Women takes things one step further and gives us backstories and what is to come of everyone living within the house. There is no real problem with this except for the fact that these backstories don't offer any real reflection which adds to the frustration that the film does not have an arc, well not one I could point out. At one point, I thought the film was concluding as we learn what is to come of Dorothea early on. I was later surprised that there was still an hour left within the film. Dabbled with nostalgia, 20th Century Women would have made for a better coming-of-age if the film decided to follow our titular women than just a boy that connected the three together.

Annapurna Pictures, Archer Gray, Modern People by Mike Mills.
Stars: Annette Bening, Elle Fanning, Greta Gerwig, Billy Crudup.

Genres: Comedy, Drama

Keywords: parent child relationship 1970s balcony feminism free spirit feminist single mother punk music generation gap santa barbara california mother son relationship

01/20/2017

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