Like looking at a polaroid that captured a treasured memory, 20th Century Women is a dizzyingly beautiful snapshot of life and the moments that make it.
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It’s a time of huge cultural change, rebellion and liberation in 1979 as determined single mother Dorothea (Annette Bening) faces the challenge of raising her easily influenced teenage son Jamie (Lucas Jade Zumann) alone. Concerned she’s unable to connect with him, and with no father figure in sight, she enlists the help of two other women in Jamie’s life (Elle Fanning and Greta Gerwig respectively) to help raise him.
Writer/director Mike Mills successfully explored his father’s coming out (and subsequent death) in his excellent film Beginners, and now with 20th Century Women he takes a semi-autobiographical look at his childhood and his relationship with his mother. At surface level, it’s standard indie fare, equal parts comedic and dramatic, but Mills digs deeper than many of his peers, getting under the skin of his characters.
With a golden, sunbathed tint to everything, there’s the feeling that we’re warmly reliving an old memory. Scenes are intercut with clips of bands playing and Jimmy Carter delivering speeches, rooting a strong sense of nostalgia in place. There’s an infectious and joyous optimism that buzzes around these open-minded people, even as they all seem pretty damn confused and directionless a lot of the time.
Elle Fanning and Greta Gerwig are both on typically fine form, showing more of why they’re currently owning the indie scene. Lucas Jade Zumann is granted his breakout role after a few smaller ones, gleefully promising a bright acting future. The star of the show though is Annette Bening. Having intensely studied recreating what Mills claims is a highly accurate rendering of his own mother, Bening breathes life into a terrific woman, and gives one of the best performances of her career.
20th Century Women is, in simple terms, a wonderful time. It’s a deeply personal, rose-tinted love letter to the people of a period that bleeds into our own, and a breath of fresh air and optimism where cynicism feels far too commonplace. Beautifully shot, insightful and witty, Mills’ childhood makes for a deep and delightful piece of cinema.
20th Century Women is available in Australian cinemas from June 1st
Image courtesy of EntertainmentOne Films