Placeholder post until I watch this again on blu-ray, since it didn’t stay long in theaters. Doomed adventure story in a hopeless land, like a post-apocalyptic Fantastic Mr. Fox. The animation, voice acting, production design all perfect, and an overwhelming joy to watch in theaters. Haven’t yet read the articles about how Wes’s representation of Japan and treatment of women are problematic, so I’m free to love the movie in blissful ignorance, for now.

Things I Can Remember: Yoko Ono is the scientist who leaks the government-suppressed cure for snout fever to the exchange-student leader of the revolutionary youth. The conflicted lead dog of the pack who finds young Atari is a long-lost brother of Atari’s companion/bodyguard Spots, who now runs with a gang of suspected cannibals. And I can’t think too hard about the ending when they swap dog-to-human translation devices because it makes me emotional.

EDIT: watched again two months later on blu-ray

“This is a distant uncle’s worst nightmare”

That familiar Fantastic Mr. Fox feeling… whenever I think about this movie for any reason, I have the strong urge to rewatch it immediately.

Gerwig has assimilated the awkward realness of Noah Baumbach’s characters with the visual charm of Wes Anderson, and given Saoirse Ronan an even better showcase than Brooklyn. Saoirse Ronan dates nice guy Lucas Hedges (Manchester, Three Billboards) and hangs with best friend Julie, then gives them up for bad boy Kyle (Call Me By Your Name star Timothée Chalamet) and popular girl Jenna, realizing her mistake and rejoining her friend in time for the school prom before she leaves town for a college her parents can’t really afford. She feuds with her mom Laurie Metcalf (that bonkers episode of Horace and Pete), and they don’t quite make up in time, but quietly depressed dad Tracy Letts (schoolmaster of Indignation) sends his daughter a touching present of all the letters mom half-wrote her daughter and threw away. I have no problem believing that precocious Saoirse is a coming-of-age Gerwig stand-in. High school dramas aren’t usually my favorite things, but I can’t ignore something this smart and perfectly made, and Katys are raving that it’s an amazingly accurate portrayal of a mother/daughter relationship.

Jamie is growing up with single mom Annette Bening, best friend Elle Fanning and housemate Greta Gerwig, three-ish generations of women (plus would-be father-figure Billy Crudup), and Bening asks the two girls to help her out by spending more time with Jamie and talking with him about life and such. Sounds cornball but it’s a beautiful, warm-hearted movie. It’s maybe a variation on those movies about modern-era disconnection where the characters can’t understand each other’s points of view, only in this case they really try hard and still fail, plus it’s a comedy (or tragedy: see below) with a great soundtrack.

Does Greta get to dance? Of course she does:

D. Ehrlich:

20th Century Women focuses its attention on a single idyllic summer and strains to hold on to that one perfect moment when everything felt like it would last forever. This is the rare movie that’s redeemed by its unchecked nostalgia.

The director’s other parental film was Beginners, which I apparently need to see. He’s not the guy from R.E.M., and Pitchfork says he designed the cover of Sonic Youth’s “Washing Machine.”

Mills:

Directing is kinda like running a mid-sized American city. You’d better be used to a whole bunch of different shit going on that contradicts itself. And often when you’re doing things that are opposites or contradictory — like punk and Santa Barbara, or an intimate scene from a distance — film for whatever reason loves that. It loves these cross purposes.

M. Sicinski:

[Dorothea/Bening] knows that she loves Jamie, and wants to raise him to be a good man. But her 70s feminism leaves her unsure what a good man looks like … We watch as Dorothea’s brash feminism ages into cautious motherhood and an unexpected suburban conservatism … The turning point of the film, really, is an interaction between Dorothea and Jamie. After reading various books on feminism, Jamie reads his mother a passage that struck him as poignant, and made him feel a tinge of deep empathy with her. It was about how society discards women of a certain age. Dorothea, unprepared to hear this from her young son, shames him. “You think you understand me now, because you read a book?”

From this point forward, she doesn’t exactly support Jamie’s growth as a pro-feminist, sexually aware man. She doesn’t always stymie it, but her enthusiasm dampens. Jamie clearly didn’t intend to mansplain, but Dorothea’s reaction is potent because in a way it is Mills setting the stage for the Reagan 80s. Like so many others, it seems, Dorothea thought she wanted new forms of thought, but when they hit too close to home, chose instead to retreat. Add together enough of these small private slights, confusions, and resentments, and you have a tragedy.

Katy’s pick for post-Thanksgiving viewing was much more successful than my vote for Looney Tunes. In any year that I hadn’t watched Damsels In Distress, this would obviously be the funniest and most charming Greta Gerwig movie. It’s still funnier and more charming than Frances Ha (which was pretty damned charming).

Lola “sister of Jemima” Kirke (the trailer-park neighbor who robs Rosamund in Gone Girl) is an aspiring writer who can’t get into her campus literary society and can’t get a boy in her class (Matthew Shear of Baumbach’s While We’re Young) to go out with her. Lola meets vibrant Gerwig (their parents were gonna get married, then they don’t) and starts mining Gerwig’s life for story ideas on the sly. Great second half as the three of them and the boy’s jealous girlfriend (Jasmine Jones) crash the Connecticut* house of Gerwig’s rich ex (Michael Chernus, of this year’s People Places Things) and his wife (Heather Lind of Demolition and Boardwalk Empire) to beg funding for the restaurant Gerwig wants to open.

Great dialogue in the movie overall, and Baumbach is good at coordinating all these characters into a sustained screwball sequence. He loves Gerwig’s energy and idealism, but he can’t keep from knocking her characters down a few pegs at the end of his movies, so she is punished for having no business sense and letting other people steal her ideas, but at least she seems to stay friends with Lola.

* wikipedia: “The philosopher Stanley Cavell has noted that many classic screwball comedies turn on an interlude in the state of Connecticut (Bringing Up Baby, The Lady Eve, The Awful Truth).”

V. Rizov:

Driver’s amateur documentarian in While We’re Young may be a jerk, but pretty much everyone around him (save poor Ben Stiller) concedes the end results are worth it. Inversely, in Mistress America, Tracy is climactically shamed for the diagnostic cruelty of her fictionalized portrait of Brooke, but she remains secure in the value of the work. Both films articulate multiple tangled perspectives on the rightness or wrongness of unkind fictionalization, and both effectively end by throwing their hands up and walking away from the question without resolution. This is self-critique, but it shies away from concluding that the ends don’t justify the means: the films themselves negate that conclusion.

The structure is bizarre, and scenes suddenly fade out. If that means there’s a longer cut somewhere, bring it on, because I could live inside this movie for another hour or two. Four girls with flowery names solve all problems on their college campus – smelly fraternities, suicide threats, the lack of a dance craze for their generation, and so on.

Flower girls: fearless/fragile leader Greta Gerwig (between House of the Devil and Frances Ha), logical Megalyn Echikunwoke (new The Omen TV series), Carrie MacLemore (Stillman’s TV pilot The Cosmopolitans), and new girl Analeigh Tipton (Warm Bodies).

L-R (I think): Tipton, the suicidal girl who steals Gerwig’s boyfriend, Echikunwoke, MacLemore, Gerwig

Noel Murray:

Whatever mode he’s working in, few filmmakers have ever been as attuned to the way we cheerfully lie to ourselves, right up to the point where the truth is exposed, and we’re left with a choice between breaking down or soldiering on. Or, as so often happens in Stillman’s films, both.

Dana Stevens on the ending:

In Shakespearean-comedy fashion, the various couples partner up and skip through the wooded Seven Oaks campus, dancing and singing to the Gershwin brothers’ song “Things Are Looking Up,” (which was first performed by Fred Astaire in a 1937 musical called A Damsel in Distress).

Stillman:

I like the idea of bringing period into a present-day film. It’s period as a way of solving our problems. The things that worked in the past have been tested a little bit, while the solutions to the future have not been tested. We know that people taking showers is going to have good results. Up to a point.

This was fun. I suppose I can forgive The Squid and the Whale now. Greta Gerwig (best known as the first victim in House of the Devil) wants to be a famous dancer, will never be a famous dancer, is kind of unsufferable but cute enough that you forgive her. A better movie than Monsters University about childhood dreams and hard work not entirely working out. Katy cringed a lot during the most Baumbachesque scene, an ultra-awkward dinner conversation, while I was busy trying to figure why Dean & Britta were in the scene.