REVIEW: 20th Century Women

5 06 2017

20th-century-womenI’m a bit of a sucker for generation theory, which lumps together similarly aged cohorts and attempts to impose a coherent narrative on their lifespan. So it’s only natural that I’d fall head over heels for Mike Mills’ “20th Century Women,” a film that treats centuries, decades and generations like immutable facts. In his recreated 1979 Santa Barbara milieu, the accident of birth is destiny for every character.

This goes doubly so for the young protagonist of the film, Lucas Jade Zumman’s Jamie, born at the tail end of the Baby Boom and the cusp of Generation X. Unlike his mother’s Greatest Generation, which held together through the Depression and triumphed in World War II, Jamie’s coming-of-age sees the radical promise of the ’60s being subverted into the reactionary, turbulent ’70s. We are more than just our generation, writer/director Mills suggests, but the formative years of our lives explain so much more of us than we are willing to admit.

That’s why Jamie’s mother, Annette Bening’s steely Dorothea Fields, seeks out proper influences for him since she’s a single mother. Luckily, her boarding house welcomes an assortment of characters from punk photographer Abbie (Greta Gerwig) to wayfaring carpenter William (Billy Crudup). Dorothea’s permissiveness also grants plenty of leeway to the sexually forthright teen Julie (Elle Fanning) to come spend many a platonic night in Jamie’s bed as well. Together, their makeshift family helps prepare Jamie for a world that’s challenging for beta males – or at least male feminists – like himself.

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REVIEW: Beginners

18 07 2011

A beautiful sampling of life and love, “Beginners” is a free-form comedic and dramatic tale from director Mike Mills that feels as personal to us as it is to him.  Bringing many autobiographical elements into the mix, the film radiates a powerful authenticity, which then translates into charm.  This neurotic charisma is a vital necessity for the movie because it makes us smile through it all – and Mills brings it all to the table.

His “Beginners” is the dark underside of the Hollywood romantic comedy, full of all the indecision, uncertainty, and challenges of real life love.  It successfully takes us through the ups and downs of a relationship, complete with laughter, warmth, pain, and upset.  Not since 2009’s “(500) Days of Summer” has a movie unflinchingly spat in the face of the genre, but rather than invert the banalities for comic effect, Mills simply sticks to the truth and tells the tale as if there had never been a formula planted in our heads for what a romance should look like.  It’s a romantic vision, perhaps, but at least it is a vision, which is more than can be said for most movies nowadays.

Mills also juxtaposes the blooming romance between Oliver (Ewan McGregor) and Anna (Mélanie Laurent, best known as Shoshana from “Inglourious Basterds“) with a different kind of relationship, the withering one between Oliver and his father Hal (Christopher Plummer) in the years before dating Anna.  Their rapport was never strong to begin with as Hal was a distant workaholic father while his son grew up, and upon being widowed, he reveals to Oliver that he is actually homosexual.  As he suffers from terminal liver cancer, Hal is determined to live his life the way he couldn’t while he was living a lie and connects with the gay community, embracing a new lifestyle complete with a young boyfriend (Goran Visnjic).

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