Kurt Loder Movie Reviews

Movie Review: 20th Century Women

Annette Bening and a top cast are in peak form in one of the year's best movies.

|

Women
A24

20th Century Women tells a coming-of-age story in which even the grown-ups are still coming of age. The movie is set in Santa Barbara, California, in 1979 (the punk-heavy soundtrack kicks off with Talking Heads' "Don't Worry About the Government"). We meet the main characters in brisk succession. Dorothea Fields (the great Annette Bening), long-divorced and now 55, has maintained a cockeyed openness to life, although she's emotionally walled-off from what it's done to her. Her 15-year-old son Jamie (breakout star Lucas Jade Zumann) isn't in half as much adolescent turmoil as his mom imagines, and is mainly concerned about things like her veiled loneliness and heavy cigarette habit. ("When I started, they weren't bad for you," she says. "They were just stylish.")

Dorothea and Jamie live in a big sagging house along with a couple of useful boarders. One of them, a warm-hearted handyman named William (a priceless Billy Crudup), earns his keep doing endless renovations—the house seems cluttered with ladders and sanders and drop cloths on every floor. The other renter, 24-year-old Abbie (Greta Gerwig, even more adorable than usual), is an aspiring photographer who dropped out of art school after being diagnosed with cervical cancer. And there's another regular presence in the Fields home, too: 17-year-old Julie (Elle Fanning, going dark), Jamie's best friend, who sneaks in through his second-floor window every night for affectionate but strictly sex-free sleepovers.

The movie has no real plot—which is to say, it's like life itself. Writer-director Mike Mills opens up his characters in what is essentially a long series of anecdotal scenes, showing us their half-buried passions and fears. Surprisingly, his script is often chuckle-out-loud funny about all this as well.

Dorothea, for example, is a natural rebel, born before her time. Confronted with a high-school principal telling her son he can't keep skipping school, she immediately asks, "Why not?" But she's also saddened to know Jamie is drifting away toward manhood, and won't be coming back. "You get to see him out in the world, as a person," she tells Abbie. "I never will."

Abbie's cancer hangs over her love life like a black cloud. But she takes a tentative run at the gentle ex-hippie William. ("Do you wanna fool around?" she asks him. "With me?") Afterward, she tells him his hair smells good, and he says, "I make my own shampoo." "Of course you do," she says, now knowing more about him than he ever will himself.

All three women, dealing with different phases of life, employ the empathetic Jamie as a sounding board. Julie, whose experience in the sex-and-alcohol department far exceeds his, casually discusses her extensive promiscuity. "Half the time I regret it," she says. "Then why do you it?" Jamie asks. "Because half the time I don't regret it," she says.

The picture might be dismissed as a "feminist" movie (Dorothea recruits Abbie to help raise Jamie to be a "good man," and soon she has him reading Our Bodies, Ourselves). But the film has no agenda, and there's nothing preachy about it. Mills simply makes observations from the perspective of the under-consulted other half of the human race. When Julie finishes having sex with a guy who promised to pull out but then didn't, and we hear her saying, in the tiniest of whispers, "I thought we had a deal there"—well, whose heart wouldn't implode? And when the director has Abbie tell Jamie her terrible cancer story as Suicide's "Cheree" radiates around them, or builds a long and hilarious dinner-table scene around people's disinclination to utter the word "menstruation," who could fail to marvel at his ability to highlight substantial issues in such disarming ways?

"I want to see this modern world," Dorothea announces as she sets out on her own for a night at a punk-rock club. "Can I come?" William asks. Yes he can. Us, too.

NEXT: Libertarian-leaning Montana State Rep. Daniel Zolnikov is Thinking About Montana's One Federal House Seat

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of Reason.com or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  1. If I still had time for things that I like, this looks like something I’d like.

    Related: what’s the best Talking Heads lineup? I’m a sucker for anything with Adrian Belew.

    1. Abbie’s cancer hangs over her love life like a black cloud. But she takes a tentative run at the gentle ex-hippie William. (“Do you wanna fool around?” she asks him. “With me?”) Afterward, she tells him his hair smells good, and he says, “I make my own shampoo.” “Of course you do,” she says, now knowing more about him than he ever will himself.

  2. When Julie finishes having sex with a guy who promised to pull out but then didn’t,

    The pullout method is 100% effective if you do it correctly.

  3. Why is Kurt Loder writing for Reason? Oh that’s right, he identifies Libertarian.

  4. I can decide if this sounds more dull than depressing, or the other way around. So many better ways to spend a couple of hours.

    1. I kinda hate movies with no plots. If you’re telling an endless story, HAVE A POINT.

  5. “The movie has no real plot?which is to say, it’s like life itself, writes Kurt Loder.”

    At least it won’t be as costly as real life. But it will probably be more more boring, too.

  6. Facebook gives you a great opportunity to earn 98652$ at your home.If you are some intelligent you makemany more Dollars.I am also earning many more, my relatives wondered to see how i settle my Life in few days thank GOD to you for this…You can also make cash i never tell alie you should check this I am sure you shocked to see this amazing offer…I’m Loving it!!!!
    ????????> http://www.homejobs7.com

  7. HAPPY NEW YEARS

    I can see what your saying… Raymond `s article is surprising, last week I bought a top of the range Acura from making $4608 this-past/month and-a little over, $10,000 this past month . with-out any question its the easiest work I’ve ever had . I began this five months/ago and almost straight away startad bringin in minimum $82 per-hr

    +_+_+_+_+_+_+_+_+ http://www.homejobs7.com

  8. HAPPY NEW YEARS

    upto I looked at the paycheck saying $9861 , I accept that my father in law was like they say trully bringing in money in their spare time online. . there best friend haz done this less than 8 months and a short time ago repayed the dept on there appartment and bourt a great Citro?n 2CV . see at this site

    +_+_+_+_+_+_+_+_+ http://www.homejobs7.com

  9. Facebook gives you a great opportunity to earn 98652$ at your home.If you are some intelligent you makemany more Dollars.I am also earning many more, my relatives wondered to see how i settle my Life in few days thank GOD to you for this…You can also make cash i never tell alie you should check this I am sure you shocked to see this amazing offer…I’m Loving it!!!!
    ????????> http://www.homejobs7.com

  10. Aaliyah. I see what you mean… Edwin`s artlclee is unimaginable, on friday I bought themselves a Cadillac after making $5642 this past five weeks and-more than, 10/k lass month. this is definitely the best-job Ive ever done. I began this six months/ago and pretty much straight away was earning at least $75, per-hr. Learn More Here

    _+_+_+_+_+_+_+_+ http://www.homejobs7.com

  11. Isaiah. if you, thought Sheila`s artlclee is unimaginable, on saturday I got Citro?n DS since getting a cheque for $7153 this-last/five weeks and just over $10 thousand last-munth. with-out a doubt this is the most comfortable work Ive ever had. I began this 6 months ago and pretty much straight away began to bring home minimum $70 p/h. why not look here

    ???????????????????????> http://www.homejobs7.com

  12. I basically profitcloseto $6k-$8k every month doing an online job. For those of you who arepreparedto do easy at home jobs for 2h-5h each day at your house and earnvaluablepaycheck while doing it…

    +_+_+_+_+_+_+_+_+ http://www.homejobs7.com

  13. My best uncal ex-wife makes Bucks75/hr on the laptop. She has been unemployed for eight months but last month her income with big fat bonus was over Bucks9000 just working on the laptop for a few hours. Read more on this site…..
    ================ http://www.homejobs7.com

  14. Bentley . true that Ashley `s blurb is good… last week I got Lotus Esprit sincee geting a check for $5815 this-last/five weeks and-even more than, ten/k lass-month . without a doubt it is the easiest work I’ve ever done . I began this seven months/ago and almost immediately startad earning minimum $77… per-hour . more tips here

    +_+_+_+_+_+_+_+_+ http://www.homejobs7.com

  15. Do You want to get good income at home? do you not know how to start earnings on Internet? there are some popular methods to earn huge income at your home, but when people try that, they bump into a scam so I thought i must share a verified and guaranteed way for free to earn a great sum of money at home. Anyone who is interested should read the given article…
    ,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,, http://www.homejobs7.com

Please to post comments

Comments are closed.