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article imageReview: ‘20th Century Women’ is a tribute to all the women in our lives Special

By Sarah Gopaul     Jan 15, 2017 in Entertainment
‘20th Century Women’ is the inspiring story of three strong, imperfect women at different stages of their lives as seen through the eyes of a teenage boy.
The ‘70s in the United States was a tumultuous time to live and grow up. Beneath the raucous never-ending war and countless protests, the women’s movement was finding, negotiating and establishing a new place in society. Punk was screaming about the sorrows of the working class, while female writers were attempting to empower other women by demystifying their bodies and identifying areas of oppression. The need for change was sweeping the nation and, as in 20th Century Women, it was starting at home.
Dorothea (Annette Bening) is a single mother with progressive ideas. She’s completely devoted to her only son, Jamie (Lucas Jade Zumann), allowing him to skip school and generally make his own decisions. However as he’s swept up into the punk scene, she fears they’re losing touch. Dorothea rents rooms in their oversized house to William (Billy Crudup), a hippie artist, and Abbie (Greta Gerwig), a young feminist. In the spirit of “it takes a village…”, Dorothea enlists both of their help to try and get through to Jamie. Although he makes some predictably stupid mistakes, Jamie is a kind and thoughtful teenager in love with his childhood best friend, Julie (Elle Fanning), who platonically sneaks into his bed every night. In an effort to make him a better man, Abbie lends him her feminism books. Having grown up with such a strong maternal figure and having an appreciation for the women in his life, he gravitates to it quite easily; though at his age, the results are mixed.
As much as Dorothea is trying to understand Jamie, the film is about his need to understand his mother and Julie. He’s constantly puzzled by their actions as Dorothea is shockingly tolerant of seemingly punishable offences and Julie has reckless relationships with guys that don’t deserve her attention. When Jamie’s not attempting to understand them, he’s trying to figure out who he is and how he fits into the world. His mutual friendship with Abbie puts her in a position to try to help him navigate his confusion, although she also sees it as an opportunity to make him “a happier and more realized person than [she] could ever hope to be.”
Flashbacks consisting of archival footage, tableaux and memories accompany Jamie’s and Dorothea’s voiceover narrations about each other and the other characters. They explain who they were and how they got to where they are now. These sequences are also accompanied by a separate soundtrack that evokes a sense of rumination on the part of the speaker.
The three women at the centre of the film are at different stages of their lives and provide diverse perspectives of their environments. While they’re not defined by their relationship to Jamie, since it’s mostly from his point of view that is how they’re primarily presented to the viewer. Consequently, in spite of their physical or emotional flaws, they’re each seen as admirable because that’s how he sees them. Bening’s Dorothea is a strong, independent woman who cares deeply for those around her and always has an open seat at the dinner table for a new friend. Gerwig’s Abbie is a feminist that loves photography, punk music and dancing, and she really just wants to make the world a better place. And Fanning’s Julie is hiding behind all the wrong choices she makes, which is causing unintentional harm to herself and loved ones; but it’s also clear she wants nothing more than a change of scenery. Zumann acts as a catalyst for their stories, while Crudup is just a sweet source of support throughout the narrative.
Director: Mike Mills
Starring: Annette Bening, Elle Fanning and Greta Gerwig
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