Great films help us deal with life by telling stories we can relate to. Just like us, the characters are flawed and often struggle to deal with their situations. But as the movie progresses, they come to terms with their problems and overcome them. 20th Century Women, a new comedy from director Mike Mills, is different.
Set in Southern California during the late ’70s, it’s the tale of a free-thinking mother (Bening) who enlists two young women (Gerwig and Fanning) to help raise her adolescent son (Zumann). The irony here is that Jamie’s the only one of the four who actually has a grip on reality. In truth, single mum Dorothea suffers from crippling loneliness and the others have deep issues of their own.
These never get in the way of fun though. Mills’ third feature is a belly-chuckling riot. There’s awkward sex scenes, first-cigarette satire and more laughs than you can fling a flaming bra at. Bening, in particular, is a delight and her deadpan delivery perfect.
The film’s real strength though, lies in its ability to provoke thought. The characters flip from tears of laughter to sobbing quicker than a light switch, and in the end not one of their individual problems is properly solved. In recognising not everything is fixable, 20th Century Women differs from the traditional narrative. It connects with our greatest fears: that we might not get the girl, might not survive tragedy, might not be great parents. Which is oddly reassuring. Life isn’t perfect and, to quote Gerwig’s Abbie, “anything like how you imagined.”
20th Century Women might not follow usual conventions, or tie up all its loose ends neatly, but it still manages a coherent, brilliantly witty story. One that satisfies its audience far more than similar films with happier endings.
CAST: Annette Bening, Greta Gerwig, Elle Fanning, Lucas Jade Zumann
DIRECTOR: Mike Mills
WRITER: Mike Mills
SYNOPSIS: The story of three women who explore love and freedom in Southern California during the late 1970s.