The year is 1979. Dorethea (Annette Bening) is a chain smoking optimistic lost soul and single mother raising a teen boy Jamie (Lucas Jade Zuhmann). As Jamie enters the difficult waters of adulthood, Dorethea, concerned she can’t help him alone, enlists the help of her both her boarder (Greta Gerwig) and Jamie’s closest friend (Elle Fanning) in raising her son.
A moving portrait of an era and a few of the people inhabiting it, 20th Century Women, vibrantly paints a picture of coming into your own, of love and sex, of feminism and punk rock, of photography and passion, of hopes and dreams, and frailty, pain, and beauty of life.
The term “portrait” is often used and perhaps overused to describe movies, but I think it especially fitting in this case. Absolutely character driven (though along a logical path), it’s more about feelings and expressions than a traditional story. It’s an intimate look into a fairly small slice of the lives of a small group of people – all intertwined, all strikingly similar, yet all completely different. Not only a portrait in the literary sense, but visually the film is a piece of art as well. Lovingly shot, and utilizing some surreal effects at times to enhance the mood, it dances its way through the oftentimes heart-aching narrative. Often literally.
The dialogue and writing is where this film really shines though, if ever so subtly. I’d be hard pressed to come up with another film where the characters speak to each other so effortlessly and with such realism without falling into the traps of mumblecore et al where conversations are either boring or impossible to understand, so concerned with sounding real that they lose any effectiveness as part of a film. No, there are quotable and memorable moments, but none that don’t feel like they could have easily come out of the mouths of this diverse cast of characters.
The writing is of course nothing if there isn’t a talented cast to channel it properly. Believable, every one of them, the cast inhabits their characters fully. All tragic, all searching for something, and all so very real. The way they are treated and portrayed, I would swear that these are all very real, actual people, unaware at the time that we were peaking into their lives. Though also acutely aware even beyond this moment in a very surreal way as you will hear through sporadic narration bits.
For all its strengths, the biggest weakness this film has is that has, perhaps, limited appeal. It’s a great work of art, but not one that everyone will appreciate or find interesting. Even I, for as much as I admire and applaud the finished work, can’t say that it especially impacted me or will find its way into my favorites list. It’s just not really my thing, but that’s fine because it may be yours and so you’re in for a treat if that’s the case, because it really is a superb work of art on film.
Mrs. Hamster did not screen this film
Brother Hamster did not screen this film
My rating: Four out of five hats
20th Century Women expands into wide release, January 13