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Monday, May 15, 2017


(Annette Bening)

A film that is deliciously watchable. (Review: Patrick Compton - 8/10)

Your attitude towards this quirky, independent film may depend on whether you would have liked to have lived in the crumbling California mansion of 50-something Dorothea (Annette Bening) in the late 1970s.

I have to confess that I would have been delighted to have spent time with her, her son Jamie (Lucas Jade Zumann) and her three boarders Abbey (Greta Gerwig), Julie (Elle Fanning) and William (Billy Crudup), particularly if I had been young and “happening” at the time.

Based upon the memories of writer-director Mike Mills as an adolescent, 20th Century Women is at once witty, charming and moving as Dorothea narrates her bohemian life as a single mother, both struggling to understand her son and his generation, as well as making room for herself in this vibrant, puzzling world that subsists on shifting foundations.

This is not a movie with an obvious plot, and it doesn’t try to be about anything in particular – except that it’s about everything. If that sounds like a contradiction in terms, watching this movie will enable you to understand exactly what I mean.

We get to know and like this “family” from the get-go. Abbey, who is recovering from cancer, is a keen photographer with a New Wave haircut; Julie is the object of Jamie’s affections but she consents to sleep in his bed on the condition that they remain friends only. William, who is engaged in helping Dorothea to renovate her shambling house, is a handsome mechanic and handyman who is happy to receive women in his orbit but doesn’t know what to do with them once they’ve arrived. Jamie, all of 15, is precocious but still learning about himself and his world. Typically, he doesn’t always respond warmly to his concerned mother’s interventions in his life.

This is a very talky film, and the chat is fluent, chippy and all-embracing. Every subject under the sun is up for grabs but the overall flow is about Dorothea who is determined to bring up Jamie as a moral being, but finds that the older he gets, the less she knows him.

Mills structures the film ingeniously, using flashbacks, quotes from famous writers and a musical and fashion menu that includes something of a clash between Dorothea’s preferred tastes (Louis Armstrong, Glenn Miller) and the music of the period (late punk).

All the performances are terrific, but ultimately this is Bening’s show as she puzzles how to bring her son up to be happier than she was. We identify completely with her warm, tousled appearance, her laconic remarks, wisdom and vulnerability. We relate to her, not just when she is talking, but even more so when she is listening and silently responding to the sometimes provocative mouthings of the youthful folk around her.

This film’s questions are, of course, more pertinent than the answers (because there are no definitive answers) as Mills creates his attractively-peopled world. More than anything, however, this is a film that is deliciously watchable.

20th Century Women opened at Cinema Nouveau, Gateway, on May 12. – Patrick Compton