Rated R

118 Minutes

Released January 20

 

I’ve always found that the personal background of directors informs the cinematic language of their work. Writer/ director Mike Mills is no exception. His movie 20th Century Women is a moving landscape of expressive characters living in the late 70’s in Santa Barbara. In the Q&A following my screening, Mills explained that he wrote the story loosely as autobiography – that the characters were all based on the most important figures in his own life growing up. His Mom was a draftsperson, his Dad an art historian and museum director. In fact at the end of the film, you will find how the lives of the individuals portrayed actually played out in later years.

This is definitely a film about women. Females surrounded Mills’ as he grew up. His mother raised him on her own after her divorce. The character of “Jamie,” based on Mills, is also surrounded by women, hence the name of the film. Newcomer Lucas Jade Zumann plays Jamie with just the right amount of naiveté, sensitivity and quirkiness. Annette Bening is “Dorothea” (based on Mills’ Mom). She conveys the strength, fearlessness and self-deprecation of an independent woman who was not brought up to take on that role. Greta Gerwig is fascinating as “Abbie,” an artist exuberantly testing the waters of newfound liberation. Elle Fanning gives us the pouting faux nonchalance and superiority of a budding teenager. Billy Crudup’s “William” is a gentle thoughtful artist, skillfully hiding a slight discomfort with his own place in the new era of feminist strength, as were many of my male friends during this time period. All these actors are superb, in part due to Mills painstaking direction.

Mills’ attitude toward filmmaking is more relaxed than that of many directors, probably because of the way his career developed. He began as a graphic artist – among his designs are album covers, textiles and clothing, and his work has been shown at exhibits worldwide. Then he started directing music videos and commercials. His commercial clients included major companies such as Nike, Levi’s and Volkswagen. The colors and textures of the scenes in this film convey volumes of emotion, and the film has a unique style. Mills obviously does not feel pressure to make a film just to stay in the public eye. 20th Century Women has been released five years after his last feature, Beginners, for which Christopher Plummer won an Oscar for Best Supporting Actor.

Having come of age myself around the same time period in Southern California, I find that this is one of the best and most complete depictions of people of this period – their hopes and fears, their everyday lives, their joy and frustrations. Nothing is overdramatized for the sake of the narrative, yet the story captures your attention precisely because the characters become so real. No matter what year you were born, 20th Century Women should ring true for you. The movie is full of passion and truth.

 

Kathryn Whitney Boole has spent most of her life in the entertainment industry, which is the backdrop for remarkable adventures with extraordinary people. She is a Talent Manager with Studio Talent Group in Santa Monica. kboole@gmail.com. For previously published reviews see https://kwboole.wordpress.com

 

 

 

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