20th Century Women Review – Annette Bening and Friends Come of Age in This OSCAR Worthy Drama

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20th Century Women, from A24 and Annapurna Pictures, brings to the screen the days, times, seasons, and events of an eclectic, mixed generation, group of wanderers in Santa Barbara, California in the late 1970’s as life, love and freedom are moments away.

Directed and written by Mike Mills, 20th Century Women stars Annette Bening, Greta Gerwig, Elle Fanning, Billy Crudup and Lucas Jade Zumann with a strong supporting cast of talented actors.

20th Century Women opens with Doreatha, played by Annette Bening running toward a burning car, with her son, Jamie, played by Lucas Jade Zumann beside her. The car is totaled. Doreatha and Jamie are sitting on the side of the Fire engine talking about the memories each had.  Doreatha's centered on the times shared with her former husband, Jamie’s father, who left them for ambition.

The two get back to their home, an old historic, two story, fixer-upper which is where we meet the renter’s. William, played by Billy Crudup, barters his construction skills for rent and Abbie, played by Greta Gerwig, an accomplished photographer. Then we meet Julie, played by Elle Fanning, Jamie’s friend, who spends more time here than at home.

It’s 1979 in Santa Barbara, California. Doreatha, and her borders, live in an idyllic beautiful southern California city.

Having met the main characters in the opening scenes we get the privilege of knowing them as they are each living, when we enter their lives.

Jamie, Doreatha’s son is struggling to find himself as the world evolves around him. Surrounded by estrogen the only man in his life is William, whom he admits, for reasons unknown, he just doesn’t like him. And Jamie is smart enough to know, as his own father is absent, his mother is hoping for male bonding and a surrogate father relationship that could possibly shed some light on the next phase of his life. He is 15, life is on the verge of never being the same.

Doreatha is a good mom and after fifteen years she is stuck. She raised a son alone, no small feat. And now as he embarks on the last half of his teen years she believes she is at a crossroads. She can’t share with him the fullness of life experiences the way his friends, even as they are women, can.

She doesn’t have the access to him anymore. He is her son and lives within the boundaries of their relationship. Usually a good, well behaved disciplined son, rarely coloring outside the lines, he remains true to the rules and ways he was taught.

Our Doreatha, in her wisdom approaches Abbie and Julie to help her complete the task of raising her son. Julie, is wise beyond her years, her mother a driven therapist counsels troubled teens and has her attend the group sessions.  Abbie, has lived in both New York City and in Southern Cal, her east coast life makes her uniquely qualified to offer guidance.

Both our formidable, unconventional, uncompromising women reluctantly agree to help and to their credit they explain to Jamie what Doreatha asked them. As they embark on this new phase they begin with trust and truth.

I really enjoyed 20th Century Women and the invitation into the lives of our cast as they navigate the newness of each day.

Throughout the film, segue moments are filled in with voice over from the characters. As the films wraps the next chapters are highlighted in voice over by the characters.

Of all the lessons, cliches, words of wisdom, pearls one can draw from 20th Century Women is that life, no matter the plans, will always bring different pathways, highways, and travels. I think the idea is to take a chance, risk, dare, throw caution (with limits) to the wind, and say "yes" and see.

The cast is special and works superbly well as an ensemble. There is a fluidity, an intimacy between the characters, each of whom share their lives willingly. They’re not seasonal friends even as path diverge, chapters close, not with sorrow or estrangements just as life moves us on.

Annette Bening gives an Oscar worthy tour de force performance as chain smoking, single mom, Doreatha willing to take a risk and step away from convention.

Billy Crudup was exceptional. His performance, persona, physical appearance was so different he was magnetic. He played an entirely different character, and he was extraordinary.

Elle Fanning embodied her role of disgruntled and super intelligent teen. Having the chance to see her in three different films in the past year, Elle is an amazing talent. She has depth and as Julie in 20th Century Women she continues to take risks and it works for her.

Greta Gerwig also took major risks in this role and whether they were instinctual or directed she was surprising as she stepped out of what appears to be a series of comfort zone films. Her portrayal of Abbie was noteworthy and remarkable.

Newcomer Lucas Jade Zumann, with only six credits to his name, stole the show and carried the role of Jamie. He personified the torn teen, hormones raging, experimentation setting in with a world of questions, the sense of loss and abandonment. His scenes with each of the others, I’m sure stretched him as he held his own with these seasoned and exceptional talents.

20th Century Women is an excellent film filled with wonderful moments of brilliance.

The cinematography is equally stunning. The gorgeous Santa Barbara coastline, with opening scenes of the waves along the Southern California shore. It is breathtaking and almost an analogy of life as with storms or without the beach shifts daily as the waves wash ashore. As is life.

20th Century Women opens December 28, 2016 in select cities and expands January 20, 2017 to theaters everywhere. See this film. 

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