Friday, January 20, 2017

20th Century Women

I was a big enough fan of writer/director Mike Mills' 2011 film Beginners to include it on my best of the year list. In his first film since Beginners, Mills reuses themes of nostalgia and the awkwardness of life along with some of the same structure (including inter-cut stills and narration to frame a time and place), but although 20th Century Women features a strong cast it lacks the intimacy and magic of his previous movie.

Set during the 1970s, the film focuses on single mother Dorothea (Annette Bening), her teenage son Jaime (Lucas Jade Zumann), and the other women in their lives, Jaime's longtime best-friend Julie (Elle Fanning) and Dorothea's friend and tenant Abbie (Greta Gerwig), who Dorothea enlists to help raise her son to grow into a proper man.

The strength of the script is the film's characters and their interactions (even if Mills struggles a bit a making some of these women, based on the real women who raised him, a bit too cute and quirky for their own good). A notable weakness is the size of the cast leading to a less focused film that while enjoyable isn't necessarily all that memorable.

For those looking for strong performances, Mills' latest will deliver that. However, despite the definite lived-in feel of the characters, the script is less imaginative and more generic this time around. To put it another way, while it's interesting to watch these characters go through the motions, the motions themselves aren't always that interesting to watch. I would defy you to watch Beginners and, like Ewan McGregor does, not immediately fall for Mélanie Laurent. While I can appreciate Mills' latest, there's no character presented here who had any sway over me or whose outcome I was encouraged to invest in.

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