Dorothea Fields is a specific and contradictory type of free spirit. Played by Annette Bening, Fields has a shrewd smile and an open heart, viewing the world as a giant ball of mystery. Her 15-year old son, Jamie (Lucas Jade Zumann), is in love with his best friend, the 17-year old Julie (Elle Fanning), who thinks they're too close for sex.
Dorothea is renting out rooms in her dilapidated boardinghouse to a mellow and hurting handyman (Billy Crudup) and a punk/mod photographer (Greta Gerwig), both of whom are a little broken and desperate for real human connection. It's the summer of 1979 in Santa Barbara, California. Most of the events these characters go through aren't life changing. "20th Century Women" isn't a film about the moments in our lives that change us or shape us into the people we will one day become. Instead, it's about growing to know yourself with help from the people in your life, regardless of generational insecurities.
"20th Century Women" is Mike Mills' third feature as writer/director, and he's improved by leaps and bounds with each one. Mills' films are always infused with moments of quiet power. Thematically, "20th Century Women" does a good job laying ground about how three different generations of women react to and treat the men in their lives. Dorothea was raised in the Depression and desperately wants to understand her son, using Julie and her punk renter to try to reach him. She's so afraid she's failing her son that she empowers these very different women to be surrogate parents to him.
More importantly than the thematic stuff are the performances, dialogue and characters. Mills creates such dynamic and original voices, and Bening, Crudup, Zumann, Fanning and Gerwig are so deep inside the skins of these characters that all you want to do is hang out with them. There are multiple scenes in which they're all simply sitting around having breakfast, and I realized I could watch a whole movie of them deciding between cereal and pancakes.
"20th Century Women" is a simple and beautiful film. It's probably a little too long and rambles a bit in the third act, but it's a deeply felt and wholly original look at life from one of Hollywood's most welcome voices. So many films are disposable bits of nothingness, but Dorothea Fields and her friends and family are absolutely unforgettable.
20th Century Women
Dir. Mike Mills
Old Mill Stadium 16 & IMAX