I was unsure what to expect when I first watched 20TH CENTURY WOMEN, but it left me in awe. It felt like a true biography, despite it being a shortened snapshot of 1979. The lives of the three main women that we meet in this movie however, feel like the most accurate understanding of what it was like as American society began careening towards the 21st century. Sure I was born in 1988, but there are a lot of universal truths behind the men and women populating Mike Mills’ movie.
Dorothea (Bening) struggles to raise her only son, Jamie (Lucas Jade Zumann), but not for a lack of trying. Jamie is entering puberty and is more curious than bothersome. Their home situation is a little awkward since Dorothea owns a communal boarding house. Dorothea rents rooms to handyman William (Billy Crudup), the artistic Abbie (Gerwig) and generally unbeknownst to Dorothea, Jamie’s room is also a part-time residence for Julie (Fanning) because she can’t stand living at her own home.
Dorothea, Abbie and Julie all represent different ideas and generations. Dorothea views the world like a 50’s housewife, but she’s more independent than she leads on. She seems to follow suit with general stereotypes about the kind of man she should be interested instead of the man she should be pursuing. Abbie is a flower power child caught between the hippie generation and the rising and aggressive punk generation that exploded onto the scene when Ronald Reagan was sworn into office. Julie almost represents a culmination of the two previous women. Or she’s a Millennial and I’m just too shy to turn the microscope on my own generation.
What 20TH CENTURY WOMEN lacks in conflict, it makes up for in discussions of ideas and it’s thoughts on the greater purpose of life. It’s interesting to see that the men in this movie are reduced to reactionary roles. William’s asked to figure out how to direct Jamie in the right direction, but he’s more preoccupied about what the sex he’s having with Abbie means. And Abbie’s too concerned about why Jamie and Julie aren’t knocking boots. It may seem arbitrary, but it’s a chance to discuss the need for men and their roles in society to adapt to the emergence of strong female roles contemporarily and in the future. Even if it is just sex.
At the current rate, Fanning’s sure to snag an Oscar one of these days and it’s a damned shame that Bening doesn’t have one. We learn so much through Bening’s narration of scenes revolving around Dorothea, but she visually portrays a woman that’s having an internal conflict, but continually squashing her own fiery passion. Gerwig on the other hand may feel like an afterthought sandwiched between the two, but she provides that necessary bridge that highlights the generational flaws with each group. That juggling act of hypocrisy and truth is enough to give Gerwig the same amount of credit the other two have received.
While this is a movie is a wonderful reflection of feminine evolution in American society, it’s still a male coming of age movie. Mills has crafted a fascinating tale that seems to have paid homage to the women in his life and the women of the future. 20TH CENTURY WOMEN was an overlooked gem in 2016 and I would implore you to give it a spin, to find what truth it speaks to you because as we learn, you’re never too old to grow and never too young to grow up.
BLU RAY REVIEW
Video: (1080p HD Widescreen 2:00:1) So much of Mills’ vision is wonderfully captured and detailed on this blu-ray.
Audio: (English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1) The dialogue mixing, even with the movies low-key and sometimes impactful soundtrack, is nearly flawless on this blu-ray.
Audio Commentary with Director Mike Mills: I’m not a fan of solo commentaries, but this one is different because Mills really bears his soul on this one. It adds another layer of depth to the movie, but because he’s by himself, it does drag a bit towards the end and there are a lot of silences.
Making 20TH CENTURY WOMEN (9:31): The cast caries this behind-the-scenes look at the movie, talking in-depth about their characters and the story.
20th Century Cast (10:49): This feature feels like a blend of the director’s commentary and the previous feature. There isn’t a lot of new information to be mined here.