My Favorite Movies – 20th Century Women (2016)

9 May

By Tanner Smith

I’m not sure I have a favorite type of movie, but small, observant, down-to-earth character pieces are right up there for me.

One of the best of the past decade is writer/director Mike Mills’ 20th Century Women–there’s no telling how many times I’ve streamed this film on Netflix by now.

And I don’t say this about every one of these movies, but I would like to see more movies that show these characters as they develop over time (something like Richard Linklater’s “Before” movies).

Set in Santa Barbara 1979, it’s about a single, middle-aged mother named Dorothea (Annette Bening) whose 15-year-old son Jamie (Lucas Jade Zumann) is discovering girls and music and other stuff in a confusing time for him.

And it’s not just a coming-of-age for the boy; it’s a coming-of-age for the mother too, because she herself gets tested along the way of her son’s journey through life. Dorothea believes in letting Jamie go off on his own and make his own mistakes, but there are times when that worries her, especially when Jamie nearly dies in a game with his friends. (I speak from experience–teenage boys do the dumbest things when they get bored.) Thus, she recruits her boarder, punk-loving Abbie (Greta Gerwig, always a delight), and Jamie’s neighbor girl-friend, Julie (Elle Fanning), to help him. Abbie introduces the kid to her favorite music and the punk scene, and Julie teaches him how to fit in with the other guys their age (and even that becomes kind of a wake-up call for her). All of this confuses Dorothea, who feels out of step with the times and wonders herself what this modern world does to someone who wants to become an adult–what does that mean nowadays, and so on.

All of these people connect and then grow apart, but it’s moments like these that a lot of us can never forget because they and the people within those moments helped shape who we are.

The characters, which also include a working-class handyman named William (played by Billy Crudup) who lives in Dorothea’s boarding house, are all very interesting and keep me coming back to this film again and again so I can be in their company and learn something more about them through each subsequent viewing.

That’s the kind of film I love–films that introduce me to such appealing characters and how they get around in the world they live in.

My favorite scene: Dorothea and William check out two different albums to see which side of the punk scene they would belong to. They can’t get into Black Flag, but they have a fun time grooving to the Talking Heads’ The Big Country. For a Talking Heads fan like me, this scene is pure satisfaction.

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