Starring: Annette Bening, Greta Gerwig, Elle Fanning
Director: Mike Mills
Running Time: 119 mins
20th Century Women is an American film about three women who assess their lives and the changing landscape of love and freedom in America in the late 1970s.
This is a very interesting film. Although not starting in the strongest fashion, 20th Century Women turns into a fascinating assessment of a transformative time period in the USA, as well as four brilliant character studies. Helped by brilliant performances and intelligent writing, the film gets better and better as it develops, eventually becoming a genuinely engrossing drama.
The place to start off here is the story. From start to finish, there are a lot of ideas being thrown around here, and there’s a lot to get to grips with in what is a very pensive and deep film. Unfortunately, it doesn’t all come together so well in the first half of the film, as you’ve got numerous themes floating around, but without any strong form or depth to make them really interesting.
However, once the film begins to move towards its final act, everything becomes a lot more interesting. Tying together numerous themes, including identity, feminism, the Sexual Revolution and the generation gap, there’s so much to think about in this movie that it makes for a genuinely riveting watch, even if it takes a while to really establish itself as such.
Of those four main themes I just mentioned, there’s a lot of emphasis placed on the radical changes in gender equality and attitudes towards sex. However, what I found most interesting was how the film looked at the mile-wide gap between generations.
Something that relates to the various character studies here as well, we watch Annette Bening’s older character try to see the world through the eyes of her young son, as well as two young women that stay in her house. Whilst she’s not presented in the typical light of a curmudgeonly and stubborn character, rather someone that’s open to new ideas, it makes for a fascinating watch as she struggles to come to terms with the new culture of the world, simply for lack of understanding rather than a pessimistic and backwards mindset.
The performances here are great too. Bening is easily the stand-out of the whole cast, bringing that fascinating dilemma and clash in her character to light brilliantly. However, the ensemble cast is all very strong, with the likes of Elle Fanning and Greta Gerwig providing an excellent contrast to Bening, and even Billy Crudup and Lucas Jade Zumann putting in impressive supporting performances.
So, the story here is a slow-burner that eventually comes into its own, whilst the performances and characters are great. However, if there’s one thing that I’ll really remember 20th Century Women for, it’s a strongly reflective mood.
Whilst the very deep and pensive atmosphere that Mike Mills creates felt like a negative in the first act, as it failed to give the story’s themes a more concrete base to then build on, it’s another part of the film that improves later on. Combined with a wonderful score and a calm pace, Mills makes that atmosphere work brilliantly with the themes and various characters, ultimately adding to the sense of importance of everything that’s going on.
Overall, I was impressed by 20th Century Women. It’s a very intelligent film with some fascinating ideas and themes, as well as some great performances. Although it doesn’t start off too well, and takes a while to really gel, I was fascinated by some of the ideas that it brought to light, and that’s why I’m giving it a 7.5.