'20th Century Women' review: Annette Bening a marvel in family drama
Annette Bening and Lucas Jade Zumann in '20th Century Women.' MUST CREDIT: Merrick Morton, A24
20th Century Women
- Starring: Annette Bening, Lucas Jade Zumann, Elle Fanning, Greta Gerwig, Billy Crudup
- Directed by: Mike Mills
- Written by: Mike Mills
- Duration: 118 minutes
When he visited Toronto to talk about his movie, Rules Don’t Apply, Warren Beatty advised everyone to see his wife, Annette Bening, in the film 20th Century Women.
“She’s one of the greatest actresses working today,” he said.
No argument here.
20th Century Women is a love letter to the past, to women and specifically to filmmaker Mike Mills’ mother, and it’s terrific. (His 2010 feature, Beginners, concerned his father, and Christopher Plummer won an Oscar for that portrayal.)
Set in 1979 in Santa Barbara, 20th Century Women is a coming-of-age tale about Jamie (Lucas Jade Zumann), teen son of Dorothea (Bening) a divorced single mother.
Dorothea owns a huge old house and has a couple of lodgers: a hippie-ish guy (Billy Crudup) who is helping her renovate and a feminist artist named Abbie (Greta Gerwig). Also on the scene is Julie (Elle Fanning), a close friend of Jamie’s. She sneaks into his bedroom via scaffolding every night, but just to hang out, cuddle and talk, to Jamie’s everlasting chagrin.
As the story unfolds — with an impeccable eye for era details of dress, music and attitude — Dorothea decides to enlist the help of Abbie and Julie in raising Jamie. She wants him to be a good man, well-rounded, thoughtful, and thinks these women can help.
And they do.
20th Century Women is a loving study of a time and place, and Mills captures the late ‘70s perfectly, particularly the social transitions therein. Then-President Jimmy Carter is seen giving his ‘crisis of confidence’ speech on television; it seems impossible today to believe that a leader promoted hope and unity and warned the American people about worshipping self-indulgence and consumerism, but there it is.
20th Century Women will likely mean more to anyone old enough to have experienced the ‘70s, but the movie’s big draw is Bening. Her character stays just out of reach in terms of Jamie’s emotional understanding, in the way a parent does, and her performance alone is worth the price of admission.
20th Century Women opens in Toronto Jan. 13. It expands across Canada throughout the month.