Saturday, January 7, 2017

20th Century Women [2016]

MPAA (R)  CNS/USCCB ()  RogerEbert.com (4 Stars)  AVClub (B+)  Fr. Dennis (3 1/2 Stars)

IMDb listing
CNS/USCCB () review
Los Angeles Times (J. Chang) review
RogerEbert.com (S. O'Malley) review
AVClub (A.A. Dowd) review

20th Century Women [2016] (written and directed by Mike Mills) is an excellent, well-written / well-acted indie piece that simply deserves wide recognition at the Oscars -- nominations for Best Picture, Best Original Screenplay (!), Annette Bening as Best Actress in a Leading Role (!), perhaps even Best Cinematography in a nice gentle indie sort of way.

Conceived as a tribute to writer/director Mills' mother (just like Beginners [2011], another simply _excellent film_, was a tribute to his father) the film is set in the California coastal city of Santa Barbara in 1979.  Both the time and place are perfect -- Santa Barbara is simultaneously beautiful, and 2 hours up the coast from Los Angeles toward the Bay Area, conceivably something of a "hippie-ish backwater."  Then the late 1970s were really at "the end of an era" (the "anything goes" lasciviousness of the 60s that with Disco / Punk extended into the mid-to-late 70s) and _just_ before the beginning of another (the 1980s / Reagan years).

So at this time, 1979 in Santa Barbara, "born during the Depression" Dorothea (played again marvelously by Annette Bening), now her mid-50s is faced the task of _finishing_ the raising of her teenage son Jamie (played by Lucas Jade Zumann) who she had "late" (at 40), because she "married late", because ... well ... she was never exactly "a cover girl."  Her husband, Jamie's father, was long out of the picture.  First, he had left and then he had died.

So how does one "raise a son" / "raise a man ... without a man"?  That's what this film is about AND TO ITS CREDIT the story _doesn't_ "look for a man" WHEN NO ONE REALISTICALLY IS AROUND TO STEP-UP.

So Dorothea decides to "make do" enlisting the help of two younger women -- Abbie (played by Greta Gerwig) a somewhat eccentric 20-something year-old boarder and Julie (played by Elle Fanning) a few-years-older than Jamie neighbor (on whom Jamie has a deep, deep crush).  She asks THEM to help her "make a man" out of her son.

And Readers understand here that she was NOT asking either of these young women to sleep with her son.  Instead, she was _asking_ THEM to _help_ HER to _make_ HIM into a GOOD GUY.

This is an _intelligent film_.  Indeed, if anything, this film is as subversive to the "values of the 1960s-70s" as it is to "traditional values."  (Discussion of) sex does come up, and the 17-18 year old Julie is "rather loose."  BUT she actually LIKED Jamie precisely because HE WAS THE ONE GUY that she could "keep at bay" and KEEP AS A FRIEND.  She confesses to him that with all her other sexual activity she'd _never_ had an "orgasm."  "So why do you have sex?" Jamie asks her.  She answers QUITE HONESTLY, because she liked "watching the guy," watching _his reactions_.  She might not get the orgasm but she liked seeing the other person happy.

Yes, there will be all kinds of Readers here who will have _any number_ of problems (or "problems") with that answer (and of course the Catholic Church teaches that any sexual activity outside of the context of marriage is _necessarily_, at least in part, A SIN) but ... HER ANSWER was NOT _selfish_ / _egotistical_.  Julie's answer was concerned about the Other (and yet, the ONE she did not want to satisfy was Jamie who she VALUED as a FRIEND).

This is one film that unambiguously declares FRIENDSHIP to be more important than SEX and expresses the opinion that it's possible to find HAPPINESS / FULFILLMENT in HELPING / SERVING OTHERS.  Remarkable.

So folks, this is not necessarily the film to take the teenager to -- I doubt they'd get it.  But it's a very intelligent film about the task of _raising someone_ to be a GOOD PERSON.

And remember Dorothea herself was not exactly "a beauty" ... but was of course trying to defend her own worth: If only "beautiful" and "popular" people had lives "worth living" where would the _vast majority_ of the rest of us be?

Certainly one of MY FAVORITE movies of the year!  Great job!


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