Review: 20th Century Women

Director: Mike Mills
Starring: Annette Bening, Elle Fanning

20th Century Women is a film that uses every cliché and doesn’t really try anything new but, for some reason, only becomes more endearing because of those familiar techniques. Director Mike Mills uses every shortcut and cheap trick not to dumb down his story but to make it more human. It’s a film about growing up, family and understanding one’s true self amid a changing world. The film is shot through the perspective of the relationship between Dorothea (Annette Bening) and her son Jaimie (Lucas Jade Zumann) as she tries to raise him into a good man during the late seventies. This is a film that is as approachable as it is challenging and forces its viewers to tackle questions about life that are as difficult now as they were in 1979.

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Image courtesy of Entertainment One

Normally when I write my reviews I focus on one or two parts of the movie that stuck out to me, but what makes 20th Century Women a great film is how everything works together. 1970’s Santa Barbara is vivid with colour and the shots transition smoothly from on to another like the crashing waves shown in many scenes. This contributes to the excellent performances and chemistry between the characters, who know as little about what will happen to them as the audience does and this creates a natural feeling. Each character is also backed by a soundtrack featuring the bands that represent their personality best and we hear this music as they do. All of these aspects working together create a film that feels like everything is in its right place.

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Image courtesy of Entertainment One

 

As I said before, there is a heavy use of cinematic cliché in this film. However, this is not a bad thing. Mills will partner voiceover with footage of what’s happening on screen, and this creates more of a storybook quality than a cheap method of characterisation. The characters are always talking us through the events they experience and this gives the flashbacks more depth. We understand them more because of it. The voiceover is never straight forward either, it never just says something you can show, rather the characters tell you about the experience from a first-person point of view while we watch it from the third person.

 

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Image Courtesy of Entertainment One

 

As I said before, there is a heavy use of cinematic cliché in this film. However, this is not a bad thing. Mills will partner voiceover with footage of what’s happening on screen, and this creates more of a storybook quality than a cheap method of characterisation. The characters are always talking us through the events they experience and this gives the flashbacks more depth. We understand them more because of it. The voiceover is never straight forward either, it never just says something you can show, rather the characters tell you about the experience from the first-person point of view while we watch it from the third person.

_TND6337.NEFMy only issue with the movie is the dialogue. The conversations and monologues in this film are very good for the most part, but occasionally will either feel overdone or rushed. The natural atmosphere becomes suspended when a character responds in a way that just doesn’t feel right. This is not a deal breaker and maybe it is knit picking but in a movie as great as this, some janky dialogue really sticks out.

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20th Century Women is a phenomenal film that sucks you in from the first frame. It’s a deep character study with a fast flowing plot, making it an easy watch while still creating plenty of conversation afterwards. In a season rife with massive blockbusters, this is a great change of pace and a fantastic reason to go to the movies.

four-half-stars

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