In my good friend Cole Klima’s review of the film, he cites understanding as a concept that drives us as human beings and a fundamental to which Mike Mills explores in 20th Century Women. The concept of understanding is ultimately what connects us as people, but in a 21st century it seems to be a faded concept. We live in a world where people seem more accepting of one another regarding where they have come from but there’s an evident divide that we can bring ourselves to. We never know it on the spot but it’s felt: our beliefs and our generations and our grasps on reality divide us in some way or another and that concept feels captured too perfectly in 20th Century Women.
Set in 1979, 20th Century Women tells the story of three women: Dorothea, Julie, and Abbie. Dorothea, a woman out of touch with the modern world, is the 40-year-old mother of Jamie, a 15-year-old boy who is a peculiar soul in himself. He befriends the 17-year-old Julie, whom we first see bored at a therapy session for teen girls. Soon we also meet Abbie, a woman in her late twenties who carries a more optimistic outlook in a constantly shifting world. The episodic nature of Mike Mills’s 20th Century Women carries a nature that brings myself back to the films of Robert Altman, going back to a thematic link through even the smallest connections. It comes from how all three of these women, with what quirks they carry, bind altogether thanks to their own understanding of what is set to come forth and how they prepare.
At the center of each woman’s story is Jamie, excellently performed by newcomer Lucas Jade Zumann. Consistently, Jamie takes in a new understanding of the world by acquiring all he can from each of the women that leave their own mark inside of his own life for at this state, he feels so unsure of what direction he wants to go. With the constantly changing society surrounding every last one of these characters at the dawn of the 21st century, what still comes along in 20th Century Women is a sense of dedication. All three of these women help in playing a vital role in Jamie’s struggle to tune in with the world he lives within. Yet as Jamie changes, every last one of these women changes in a similar manner because there’s a link being formed amidst a great sense of dedication they have for one another at the pace of our own movements.
It was only fitting that the film’s title hints at the dawn of the 21st century for everyone’s openness to learn about others seems like a concept long forgotten as shown in here. But Mike Mills perfectly captures a sense of that divide and that’s what allows 20th Century Women to carry the resonating effect that it does. It resonates because even with some people whom we are close with, some of us are caught up with how we see the world around us we refuse to go outside of that outlook. But if Mike Mills could ever show anything all the more fitting in 20th Century Women, it plays out to show how distanced we have become all because one’s quirks and perceptions of culture find themselves becoming alien concepts to our mind. No one is a perfect human being as all three of these magnificent leading actresses have shown inside of their performances, but the brokenness can be felt and it tugs much harder than imagined.
This sort of alienation is something that only leaves me to thinking about my own place in life. There’s a specific sequence that comes to mind that shows a black-and-white sense of direction that a younger generation would wish to take and it comes in the form of a fight over band preferences. Black Flag, Art Fag – which path do you wish to take upon your future? Black Flag, shown to be a more rebellious pathos represented by the band it is named for at the dawn of the new century. Art Fag, on the other hand, is shown to be a more creative one in spirit, and it is represented through the music of Talking Heads. Although because of this black-and-white sense of direction, there’s a picture being painted of where desires can end up taking oneself especially when at the turn of a new era, everyone still feels unsure of themselves.
One can go ahead and see 20th Century Women as something so pro-female through the way it is written and what it makes of its three leads a la Paul Mazursky, although something much more has come about. At the turn of the new era, how much do we really understand another’s place and meaning in society? If something about 20th Century Women had ever managed to stand out in my own eyes, it would be how everything finds itself binding together because of how we paint a general direction for ourselves in life. Are we ever ready for a new era to come upon us, or are we just overwhelmed on the spot to a point we barely have time to think about a change? And when that new era comes, what do we turn into? Will we choose the black-and-white understandings of the world that come out of petty fights of all things? Or shall we bind as a group, with a great feeling of acceptance coming abroad? Within the remaining years of my life, I can only find myself anxious for where my fate is set to lead me.
Watch the trailer right here.
All images via A24.
Directed by Mike Mills
Screenplay by Mike Mills
Produced by Anne Carey, Megan Ellison, Youree Henley
Starring Annette Bening, Elle Fanning, Greta Gerwig, Lucas Jade Zumann, Billy Crudup
Release Year: 2016
Running Time: 118 minutes