20th Century Women (2016) is the story of Dorothea, a single mother that is struggling to raise her teenage son, Jamie, in Southern California during the late 1970’s. Dorothea enlist the help of two younger women, Abbie and Julie, to help raise her son and make sure he gets the experiences he is due at his young age.
20th Century Women structures its story slightly different than traditional films. While it does have a central plot that connects the main characters through a beautiful coming of age story, it also includes individual subplots for many of the characters. For me, this unique approach resulted in some likes and dislikes around the film's narrative. One of my favorite aspects of 20th Century Women was how the standalone subplots exposed rich backstories for many of the film's secondary characters. This approach allowed the supporting actors and actresses to shine in their roles and it helped establish many complex defining qualities for the characters. The biggest issue I have with the film's main storyline is that it is incredibly simple and it lacks any major climax. Because of this, the film does suffer from some pacing issues, but luckily, the standalone character's subplots helped to move the central story along.
Annette Bening, who plays Dorothea, is one of those actresses that truly dedicates herself to her roles and 20th Century Women is no exception. Bening gives an excellent performance as the quirky yet caring hippy mother. Newcomer, Lucas Jade Zumann, gives a solid performance as Dorothea's son, Jamie, who is struggling to figure out who he is and where he belongs in the 1970’s society. Of all the performances, Greta Gerwig was the one who stood out to me the most. Gerwig's character, Abbie, has the strongest character arc of the entire film and Gerwig's performance embodies the character perfectly as she progresses through some of the high's and low's of her young adult life. Her story hit some issues that are very close to my heart, and as a result, I was able to connect with her character and see how authentic her performance was.
20th Century Women is set in and around Santa Barbra, California during the late 1970’s and the filmmakers do an incredible job of capturing this era. Every detail of the film, from the set pieces to the camera angles and post processing, received a great attention to detail. As a viewer of the movie, you feel as if you have been transported back to the 1970's. The only aspect of the look that I didn’t agree with was a very unnecessary rainbow filter effect that appears at random moments throughout the film. This effect felt out of place with the overall tone of the movie, and while it doesn’t show up often, the few times it did, it pulled me out of the viewing experience. I kept trying to understand why the effect is there and the purpose it served.
In the mid to late 1970’s, a massive cultural shift in the music scene was occurring and 20th Century Women addresses this not only with its story but also with a soundtrack that spans many different genres of music. The film addresses this cultural shift by exploring both sides of the music scene. At one point, you find yourself in a punk rock bar where you are listening to a live hardcore punk rock band, but at another point, you are on a peaceful road trip where you hear uplifting feel good music. As you can expect, this exploration of the music scene results in an excellent and diverse soundtrack.
20th Century Women is a very well made film that captures the 1970’s beautifully. While it does suffer from some pacing issues and a very thin central storyline, the excellent performances and the subplots that heavily focused on supporting character's development make up for this. I give 20th Century Women a 8 out of 10.