20th Century Women (directed by Mike Mills, 2016).

with Annette Bening, Billy Crudup, Greta Gerwig, Elle Fanning, Lucas Jade Zumann.


Jamie (Lucas Jade Zumann) grows up with his mother Dorothea (Annette Bening) in the late 1970s in Santa Barbara California. Dorothea decides that she alone can’t provide everything it takes for her fifteen year old son to grow up into an honorable strong man.  So she enlists other people to help her.  She does not search far.  She simply asks those boarders who pay her rent to give her an assist.

These include Abbie (Greta Gerwig), a twenty something photographer suffering from cervical cancer, William (Billy Crudup), a handyman in the midst of upgrading the magnificent piece of architecture they all live in, and Julie (Elle Fanning), a teenage girl who sneaks in at night to sleep with the young boy who she considers her closest friend.

There is rhapsodic photography of Jamie skateboarding around the curved roads of the California coast towns near Santa Barbara.  Elle Fanning, Greta Gerwig, and Billy Crudup do more than the heavy lifting required of the screenplay.  They carry the movie.  I am not sure that I swallow Annette Bening’s performance.  It is not all her fault.  There is something off putting about her performance, or even of the part.   It seems she took a master class in smoking cigarettes, as if that were the key to acting her role.   In fact there is a class on smoking Julie gives to Jamie who flunks it.  Julie should have taught Dorothea instead.

The narration by the boy looking back thirty years is at first charming, but increasingly intrusive, and then repetitive and annoying.  There is a stop and start rhythm to the editing that doesn’t carry the day.  But when the movie is at its best, it demonstrates the differences in generations beautifully.  Watching Gerwig fling herself about as she dances to punk music is a beautiful thing.  And Lucas Zumann is terrific as Jamie.


Each day he takes down the stock prices of his mother’s portfolio.  Strangely, this becomes one of the most lovely affectionate things about the film.




About Patricia Markert

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