Classic Movie ReviewsClassic Review: 20th Century Women (2016)

Keith NoakesJanuary 21, 2018

Annette Bening got robbed of an Oscar nomination for this but it did rightfully get a nomination for Best Original Screenplay. It was just a great coming of age story from multiple perspectives, anchored by the amazing performance by Bening. (original review)

Synopsis: Dorothea Fields, a determined single mother in her mid-50s who is raising her adolescent son, Jamie at a moment brimming with cultural change and rebellion. Dorothea enlists the help of two younger women in Jamie’s upbringing, via Abbie, a free-spirited punk artist living as a boarder in the Fields’ home, and Julie, a savvy and provocative teenage neighbor. (Elevation Pictures

Starring: Annette Bening, Elle Fanning, and Greta Gerwig.

Writer: Mike Mills

Director: Mike Mills

Rating: 14A (Canada)/R (United States)

Running Time: 119mins


There have been many coming of age films but this one went a little differently as it was multiple characters coming of age, so to speak, a mother named Dorothea (Benning) and her son named Jamie (Lucas Jade Zumann). Dorothea gave birth to Jamie in her 40s, despite everyone telling her she was too old to have a child. Their generational gap catches up to them as they start to drift apart. Needing help and feeling like she is losing him, Dorothea enlists the help of one her free spirited tenants named Abbie (Gerwig) and their neighbor and Jamie’s crush named Julie (Fanning) to help him become a good man.

Dorothea, after having divorced her husband when Jamie was at a young age, is now in her 50s and had difficulty coming to terms with where she was in her life, lonely and mostly alone. She has had some flings but they never lasted long as she hasn’t committed to love, leaving her and Jamie. They were close thanks to Dorothea’s mostly hands-off approach. She was very laid back with him and letting nature guide him through life. She brought in another tenant named William (Billy Crudup), hoping to add another male influence but he and Jamie never connected as he endeared himself more to Julie and Abbie.

In losing Jamie to their generational gap, Dorothea begins to see that her parenting style wasn’t working, leading her to ask for help. He was not thrilled in learning about her plan, believing that he didn’t need help. Not only does Dorothea lost him but she also sees the rest of the world pass her by in the process. In order to get closer to her son, with the help of Abbie and Julie, she tries to understand the current generation by listening to punk bands and going to clubs. This exploration resulted in some great moments and genuine reactions from Dorothea, looking confused and wondering why things were they way they were.

Abbie was probably the best of the three secondary characters. She was a free-spirited, feminist punk rocker and a recent cervical cancer survivor. This caused a great strain between her and her family for whom she doesn’t talk to anymore. This was why she gravitated so much towards Dorothea as she was the mother she never had. She manages to make quite the impression on Jamie by giving him a bunch of book and introducing him to feminism. Jamie becomes interested, believing that being a good man means to understand women.

Jamie had a crush on Julie and she knew that but she kept hanging out with him anyway. She didn’t really have any female friends of her own so they would spend a lot of time together, often whenever she would sneak into his house and they would sleep in the same bed together but never having sex. This hurt him on the inside as he would have to hear about her many exploits.

Ultimately, this film was about the influence of family on one’s development and this worked as the story and characters felt genuine and real. It would make you laugh while also making you cry, with many funny moments at times but was also touching. The music and the visual effects helped to set the mood nicely. The script was smart as the other characters were deep, likable, and fun to watch because of their amazing chemistry.

The acting was the best part of the film with Bening being the standout. Dorothea was an eccentric character and going between that and being a caring mother while losing herself within the world around her while never becoming over the top was not easy to do. She never broke down, accepting that this was how things were and letting her own strength shine through. Gerwig was just as good, balancing comedy and tragedy with her character and excelling at both. She had fun moments with Zumann’s Jamie and also had to deal with the fact that Abbie had cervical cancer and coming to terms with no longer being able to have children of her own and having a relationship with Jamie to maybe compensate for this. Fanning was good but her character was the least interesting of the three women. Zumann was also good as the young and conflicted Jamie, connecting all the women together.

Overall, this was a great, smart coming of age drama with amazing performances by Annette Bening and Greta Gerwig.

Score: 9.5/10

If you liked this, please read my other reviews here and don’t forget to follow me on Twitter, follow me on Instagram, and also like me on Facebook.


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