Mike Mills’ 20th Century Women is one of the most purely crafted expressions of family and boundaries created in recent cinema. Once he had his daddy issues sorted in Beginners, the film that led Christopher Plummer to a stellar Oscar win, Mills sorted the motherly influence in the story of his teen approximation via a moody Jamie (Lucas Jade Zumann) being mentored by women in three different places in their lives: Dorothea (Annette Bening), his mother torn between her Depression era upbringing and unconventional womanhood post-war; Abbie (Greta Gerwig), a cancer survivor dangling on the precipice of familial and cultural limitations; and Julie, the brazen friend bridging the sexual and platonic divide. This documentary of finding and losing their way is like a homey visit on rewatch.
Fanning and Gerwig are never better in their free wheeling determination to be modern women, but Bening as the progressive but tiringly sensitive to the often assaulting change of the day. Wisdom–and certainly some seasoned incredulity and stubbornness–aid Bening in the pensive mother who can take in your assumptions to life and give a devastating response of “Well, yes and no” that has Film Twitter a buzz for many-a year. At odds with that great split between revolutions (be it WWII or the sexual revolution), Dorothea is strong enough to contend with tribal parenthood but she is unprepared for the velocity change has taken (If only she could see microgenerations in the world of social media!). Forced to see a world and a son changing in front of her eyes, Bening proceeds with cautious optimism at her son’s future.
The film never lets you ignore the passage of time; it somehow jumps around without ever losing the moment. Yet, you are given a fully realized creature: a lovingly constructed family ready for a seismic shift. 20th Century Women streams on Amazon Prime and Kanopy; please enjoy this tremendous movie from A24!