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:
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.”
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.
[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.