20th Century Women Review
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Being a woman comes with layers upon layers of challenges and expectations. Whether as a wife, a mother, a professional, or a friend, each role brings its own complications. And in 20th Century Women writer/director Mike Mills explores the lives and loves of women who are trying their best to figure it all out.

20th Century Women follows three lonely women—and a couple of men, too—as they try to navigate their way through life in Southern California in 1979. Dorothea (Annette Bening) is a single mom who’s trying her best to raise her teenage son, Jamie (Lucas Jade Zumann). They live together in a big, old house that they share with a couple of boarders—handyman William (Billy Crudup) and punk rocker Abbie (Greta Gerwig)—and Jamie’s best friend, Julie (Elle Fanning), who stays there to escape her own sad, lonely family life.

20th Century Women is a story about a trio of very different women at different points in their lives who are all trying to decide which path in life to take—and the teenage boy who’s caught in the middle.

The film has some wonderful moments—some smart, some funny, some thought-provoking. The performances, too, are solid—especially from Bening, who does an excellent job of navigating her character’s numerous challenges. As a single mom, she’s trying her best both to provide for her son and to raise him in a way that will make him a thoughtful, responsible man—despite the fact that he’s grown up without a father. Like any parent, she struggles to find the right balance, wanting to guide him without getting too involved in his life. She often seems cool and distant, but she clearly feels much more than she lets on. At the same time, she’s also a single woman who needs to find love and happiness for herself. It’s a difficult balancing act for the character and a challenge for Bening, but she handles it all with ease, giving her character strength and charm and vulnerability, too.

There’s definitely a lot to digest here—different characters with different perspectives on life, love, and the roles of men and women. But, in the end, it all feels a little flat. It’s long and chatty and rather deliberate with a tendency to wander. And though the characters all hint at interesting stories, they aren’t as strong and memorable as they could have been.

Thoughtful and meandering and occasionally perplexing, 20th Century Woman is a character-driven drama marked by an award-worthy performance. It isn’t necessarily the kind of moving film that lingers long after the credits roll, but it may make you stop and think about the roles of the women in your life.

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