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20th Century Women

Year: 2016
Production Co: A24
Director: Mike Mills
Writer: Mike Mills
Cast: Annette Bening, Elle Fanning, Greta Gerwig, Billy Crudp, Lucas Jade Zumann

A film tailor made for the feminist movement, full of very distinctive female characters who all have their foibles, hopes and secrets and are played by some of the finest performers working today.

But is it an interesting story? Unfortunately not. Jamie (Lucas Jade Zumann) is 15 and mostly enjoys a relationship with his headstrong mother Dorothea (Anette Bening). A very early scene shows how they come out of the grocery store to find their car on fire. It might be some sort of metaphor for what's about to happen to their lives, but Jamies' relationships with the other women in his world and theirs to each other become a knot of loyalties, failures and heartbreak.

He's secretly in love with his best friend Julie (Elle Fanning), a young tearaway who sneaks into his window at night to sleep in his bed but refuses to have sex with him because of the danger to their friendship.

Abbie (Greta Gerwig) is a young photographer who lives in the guesthouse he and his mother run, and she's trying to come to terms with her cervical cancer diagnosis. There's also William (Billy Crudup), another resident at the guesthouse who's helping Jamie's mother refurbish the place and who seems to have a closer than usual relationship with Dorothea, but which never really coalesces.

They all have their moments both alone and with other characters, Jamie more or less the audience stand-in to view all this powerful character work by accomplished actresses. It's all well played and well staged, it just doesn't go anywhere very interesting.

I was actually reminded of Alfonso Cuaron's Roma of all things. This film also seemed to be a love letter by writer/director Mike Mills to the women who shaped his young life and made him who he is. But where Cuaron captured the sights, sounds, smells and moods of Mexico City around him beautifully, Mills doesn't do a real lot to depict 70s-era California beyond some hair, costuming and prop cars.

It was an A24 Production so it was always going to be indie, but it needed to add up to more than this.

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