20th Century Women is eminently watchable

Mike Mills' love letter from son to mother

In 2010, Mike Mills put part of his life story to screen—the part where his elderly father came out as gay. That lovely, delicate movie, Beginners, won an Oscar for Christopher Plummer. With 20th Century Women, Mills has created an ode to his mother and cast her in Annette Bening’s image (what a privilege). It’s 1970s Santa Barbara, and Bening is Dorothea, single mother of Jamie (a sensitively dorky Lucas Jade Zumann). Together they live in a ramshackle house with two boarders: A hippie handyman (Billy Crudup) and an artistic punk (Greta Gerwig) recovering from cancer. Neighbour Julie (Elle Fanning) is Jamie’s best friend, a sexually adventurous teen who sleeps in his bed but won’t sleep with him. Dorothea asks the women in Jamie’s life to teach him how to be a good man, and this is what begins to pull them apart. She’s a free spirit, but she’s not yet ready to let her son float away. Mills, a graphic designer, injects 20th Century Women with beautiful, hazy, colourful effects and interstitial artistic side notes—he did this in Beginners too—and they only add to the experience of this eminently watchable film, a love letter from son to mother.

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