20th Century Women
Autobiographical material is usually the most effective when translated to art. It’s incredibly useful when a writer or artist has lived through the experience he or she is relating. Mike Mills has made his second semi-autobiographical film after Beginners, which recounted a key part of his father’s life.
20th Century Women is partly the story of Mill’s mother. The story takes place in 1979 Santa Barbara, where the young Jamie (Lucas Zade Zumann) is being raised by his single mother Dorothea (Annette Benign), a young photographer renting a room out of their home named Abbie (Greta Gerwig), and a close childhood friend that Jamie has stronger feelings for named Julie (Elle Fanning). The film is a series of vignettes of Jamie’s life in this specific year and his interactions with these women from three separate generations.
What surprised me most about this film was the lack of an overarching objective, and how it still managed to hypnotize you for most of the film. This credit goes not only to the incredibly well written script (the dialogue is gold), but also to an expert editing that makes the transitions through these ‘memories’ seem so seamless. And while this incredibly magnetic vision and structure of storytelling is compelling at first, towards the last half-hour it does begin to get weary as you can’t really see where the story is really going. (Although by the end it wraps up very nicely and with satisfaction for all)
The cast is kept small but thus the actors are given much more time to shine and show their immense talent. All three of the actresses in this film bring such energy and love to their roles, that it transcends the screen and on to you. And even though I myself am not a woman, I feel like there was a very unique female perspective that is often ignored in Hollywood, and that it made this film seem so incredibly fresh and original.
There is an inevitable comparison to Boyhood since it’s the story of a boy’s coming to age; but the real difference is the celebration that Mike Mills makes towards, not only these three incredible women characters, but to women in general. And in these times, where women seem to be stagnated in society, it makes this film all the more necessary.