20th Century Women is the perfect movie to watch in honor of the Women’s March. It provides an openly feminist perspective on the experiences of five interconnected lives.
Written and directed by Mike Mills, 20th Century Women is about the lives of a ‘family’ in the late 1970s. When Dorthea (Annette Benning) struggles to connect with her teenage son, Jamie (newcomer Lucas Jade Zumann), she recruits the help on her son’s best friend (Elle Fanning) and tenant (Greta Gerwig).
From this description it should be clear that there is not a lot of plot. Although this concept propels the movie, the characters are the focus. This is a portrait of the lives of these three women, from their own narration and through the eyes of Jamie.
The characters are the strength of the movie. It is not lacking without a strong plot because these fully developed characters are able to propel the story forward. They are wonderfully flawed and realistic in a way that feels unpolished and fresh. Jamie is at the center of the movie, and it is interesting to see how the women in his life shape his experiences.
Through these unique characters, the movie is not afraid to handle divisive topics, addressing them head on. In one scene, a character insists that everyone say the word “menstruation,” and will not stop until the men look her in the eye. This movie is special in part because the women do not all agree about this matter and others.
This movie is not a mouthpiece for a specific political view. It just shows that women are complicated because they are people, a concept that is upsettingly not shared in many movies. Throughout it all, it is unabashedly feminist. Because of this, the dialogue is open, which is sometimes appropriately serious, but also largely humorous through its honesty. It is additionally not speaking for all women or all experiences. This is just the experiences of three women and two men in 1979 Santa Barbara.
The narrative style especially stands out in 20th Century Women. Voice-overs take over at seemingly random points, through every character’s perspective. Some discuss their own past, others discuss another’s past, and most interestingly, they all discuss their own future. It gives insight to how characters are directly affected by others, even in such a short period of time.
This style is aided by unique editing. Some scenes are compressed into time lapses while some voice-overs are visualized through jump cuts. Description flip through old photographs and car rides move alongside a hazy rainbow. In different ways, these guide the audience: what to look at, what to listen to, or when to think.
This movie is not everyone’s cup of tea; there are no explosions, just people. At times it can drag on, especially without the propulsion of plot. However, the stories are each so different and interesting that if you become involved in them, you become invested in the characters’ lives through the end. The performances are excellent and endearing, especially headed by Benning. It additionally helps that A24 gave some of the ticket sales this weekend to Planned Parenthood.