Archive for the ‘Mike Mills’ Category

California Dreaming

20th Century Women

Director: Mike Mills

Cast: Annette Bening, Elle Fanning, Greta Gerwig, Billy Crudup, Lucas Jade Zumann, Alison Elliott

Beginners director Mike Mills dramatic comedy 20th Century Women featuring a brilliant performance by Oscar nominated star Annette Bening as a single mother Dorothea Fields in Santa Barbara in 1979 struggling to raise a teenage son who does not have a paternal influence in his life comes off as long winded and self-indulgent.

The biggest problem with 20th Century Women is that while Mills effectively catches the zeitgeist of the late 1970’s as the decade is edging into the 1980’s and the sexual freedom of the seventies is being replaced by the punk rock hard core attitude of such bands as The Sex Pistols, the film itself does not sustain in terms of script for two hours especially with only five characters and less than clever dialogue.

What does come through clearly in 20th Century Women is that Jamie played Lucas Jade Zumann is being influenced by too many varying female perspectives which naturally causes friction among Bening’s character and her zany young lodger Abigail Porter played by Greta Gerwig who is recovering from ovarian cancer. Then there is Hollywood it girl Elle Fanning (Live By Night, Malificent) as the sexually promiscuous and outspoken teenager Julie who befriends Jamie yet does not offer any of the promised sexual pleasures which she so often hints at. This leaves him as a young teenage boy frustrated and confused.

Alison Elliott has a brief appearance as Julie’s mother. Elliott is best known for her roles in Birth and as the dying heiress in the stunning film The Wings of a Dove.

Whilst he tries to understand Feminism including reading The Politics of Orgasm and is introduced to drugs, alcohol and the legendary Californian free-spirited living, what he really desires is a strong maternal bond with his mother, who emotionally cannot deal with her teenage son.

Instead of being a mother to Jamie, the unconventional working mother Dorothea gives him free rein and he in turns sees her as lonely chain-smoking single mother who grew up in the Great Depression.

Despite superb performances by Bening and Elle Fanning, 20th Century Women is a feminist film from a man’s perspective that of the director Mike Mills and does not delve into the emotional crux of motherhood too deeply.

If audiences expect an eventful trajectory of a dysfunctional family drama, 20th Century Women does not deliver mainly due to a lacklustre script and a story line which essentially doesn’t really go anywhere significant beyond catching the mood of a decade which is about to close while the world is rapidly transforming into the consumerist 1980’s where the sexual liberties of the 1970’s are severely curtailed by the AIDS pandemic.

If a film is going to only have five characters in the story, the script better be absolutely superb and whilst 20th Century Women has its definable moments nothing stands out as particularly brilliant in the tradition of the recent film by Kenneth Lonergan, the Oscar winning Manchester by the Sea or even the riveting Stephen Frear’s French period drama Dangerous Liaisons which quite frankly is in a league of its own.

20th Century Women gets a film rating of 6.5 out of 10 and one hopes that the extraordinarily talented Annette Bening can once again achieve onscreen recognition as she once did in her career defining performances in such Oscar nominated roles in Being Julia, American Beauty and The Grifters.

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