20th Century Women
Mike Mills' latest project is a characterful homage to growing up in 1970s America, boasting a host of talented actors who all contribute well to the spirit and humour of the film. Mills' unique aesthetic and memorable script combine perfectly to create a deeply personal and memorable film.
The film boasts an impressive cast and Benning delivers a charming central performance as the optimistic but fragile Dorothea. Delivering her lines in perfectly whimsical fashion, she encapsulates the warmth and excitement of the film. Greta Gerwig as the rebellious, punky Abbie, Elle Fanning as the troubled, adventurous Julie and Lucas Jade Zumann as the struggling Lucas are all excellent and each earn their fair share of screen time.
Zumann is a particular highlight, managing to avoid many of the typical cliches and pitfalls of so many teen portrayals. Even Billy Crudup, by far the weakest element of the recent Jackie, redeems himself as the out of touch but humorous mechanic William.
There is little in the way of a strong plot, the film instead revolving around the themes of progress and the coming of age process, with Dorothea conflicted over how best to raise Lucas. As a result, what we see is a series of anecdotes, loosely held together by these underlying constants. It is a highly character driven piece and all the better for it, as we develop a very real connection to each character and our sympathy is split between them all.
All the relationships feel completely natural and every character is well written, each given depth and a certain amount of unpredictability. Despite this free-flowing structure though, the film is excellent at gathering together all the characters and loose story strands to deliver a satisfying ending that both harks back to the past and looks ahead to the future.
Mike Mills' direction is eclectic and bright, bringing to life the energy and excitement of the late 70s. The fusing of archival images from the past into a number of scenes helps bring to life the time period and, as with the characters, adds to the unpredictability of the proceedings.
A great soundtrack of classics, ranging from the Talking Heads to Black Flag, also adds to the warmth and spirit of much of the film. In fact, the trailer gives a perfect taste of the tone and style of the film, combining memorable one-liners with genuine character development to great effect.
Humour and nostalgia are two of the film's great standout aspects and are both handled perfectly. The emotional heart of the film is very gradually revealed and never feels too overbearing, with the sentimentality of each relationship never feeling over-scripted or obvious. The back and forth between Benning and Zumann is a great example of this, serving to reveal both their close relationship and their issues with each other.
It is a shame that 20th Century Women has been released in such a busy month for film, with the Oscars hype threatening the prospects of the film. A joyous, spirited experience, it deserves much success and should be seen as the wonderful hidden gem of the awards season.