Directed by Mike Mills
American writer-director Mike Mills has convinced me of his cinematic capacities with just a triplet of comedy-dramas. This is quite something since most of directors tend not to be so fortunate in an early stage.
Mills’s secrets include hard work over a script that works, take the time to get it ripe, and then gather the best actors and employ honest mechanisms to put it into practice.
It was like that in “Thumbsucker” (2005), “Begginers” (2010), and now in his brand new “20th Century Women”.
The film, partly based on the director’s childhood, is mostly centered on a middle-aged single mother, Dorothea Fields (Annette Bening), who struggles to fight loneliness and raise her 15-year-old son Jamie (Lucas Jade Zumann) in 1970s Southern California. However, it also introduces us to other interesting characters that help to enrich the whole with their own particular stories.
Dorothea rents his house to Abbie (Greta Gerwig), a staunch feminist, music connoisseur, and amateur photographer who’s recovering from cervical cancer. Although late on the rent payment, she and Dorothea are good friends.
Also a tenant, William (Billy Crudup) is a bland soul who helps to fix the house and energizes himself through meditation. He starts an uncompromising relationship with Abby but it’s attracted to the landlady, who gets along with him but finds him humorless. Dorothea is sufficiently liberal to let Jamie skip school classes. However, she gets upset when Abby inflicts a substantial dose of feminism on him.
Jamie is a punk music enthusiast who often sleeps with his best friend, Julie (Elle Fanning), with no sex involved, though. He's going through a difficult phase, proper from the age, but Dorothea really doesn’t know how to deal with him. Resorting to her tenants to help her on this matter seems not to be the right solution.
Both adults and teenagers share their lives with one another, trying to feel good and attain balance. Sometimes simplifying, sometimes complicating, all of them are compelling individuals.
Pelted with pleasurably weird moments, “20th Century Women” is a beautiful ode to friendship and human understanding that doesn’t waste a single minute with trifles. It’s realistic enough to make us interested until the end, conveying a variety of emotions within the different scenarios.
Even with all these pointed qualities and a great cast, the film doesn’t surpass “Beginners”, which remains Mills’s most accomplished film so far.