Reviewing Movies: 20th Century Women

I hardly know where to begin. Director Mike Mills (Beginners, Thumbsucker) brings us 20th Century Women, a story about the relationship between a single mother and her son, and three characters whom she hopes will influence her son as he matures. Five complex characters are portrayed by five very fine actors who are as natural in their respective roles as the light of the sun to a California day.

Words spring to mind in describing this movie far more than merely regurgitating the narrative or the ethics intended: Heartbreaking. Funny. Quirky. Uncomfortable. Complex. Melancholy. Truth. Reality. Life. This movie touched on my most vulnerable trait -- this unsettling feeling in the pit of my existence that I will never be enough for anyone, not my friends, not my (hopefully) future lover.

Annette Bening (American Beauty, Being Julia) has been honing her skills as a brilliant actor for this very role. Her character, Dorothea, is eccentric, yes, but far more "with it" than even she may imagine. Our life experiences tend to shape our character -- for better or worse -- and this portrayal allows us to peer into the mind, the heart, the life of someone who experiences and even expresses fear, vulnerability, insecurity, but also honesty, integrity, and one who values what is or should be right in the world.

At least mid-way through the film I wonder "where" we are going on this journey. Is there some major moral conclusion that will alter our perception of the human condition? Or is this two-hour flick merely a lens through which we watch five people tackle the various issues with which we are all, to some degree, faced from week to week, month to month, year to year? Once I realize that the latter is true, I am able to relax and enjoy the journey, a journey that every mortal is walking regardless of whether or not she realizes that she is on said journey. We are traveling, all of us, on a journey.

Touching issues such as pop culture wars, politics and the state of a nation, menstruation, sex, teen pregnancy, feminism, the perceived "role" of a man, familial relationships, romantic relationships, falling in love, self-worth, respect for oneself and others, life goals, each subject is interwoven in the human tapestry with dignity and humor, anxiety and fear, failures and redemption. If you enjoy movies concerning the human condition, and ones that are heavily narrative-oriented and artsy or indie-based, 20th Century Women is a must see. Mrs. Pat B., this movie has "you" written all over it.

Reflecting on a recurring element, I so very much appreciate the future tense granted at two significant places during the telling of the story, and both times were powerful for me emotionally. Hindsight is both a blessing and a curse. Since we cannot predict what will occur, perhaps we should all approach current trends with much more respect for the transiency of life, and appreciate the now in the now.


RATING: 4.5 out of 5


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My name is William Birch and I grew up in the Southern Baptist tradition but converted, if you will, to Anglicanism in 2012. I am gay, affirming, and take very seriously matters of social justice, religion and politics in the church and the state.