Hidden behind mammoth films such as Black Swan, The Social Network, and Inception, Beginners did well in 2010 and even netted Christopher Plummer an Oscar. But despite its brilliance, director Mike Mills is hardly a household name yet—20th Century Women is here to change that.
With the same depth and poignancy to which Mills explored his own autobiographical tale in Beginners, he turns his focus onto his mother and the women who guide us through life—whether it be the artsy feminist trying to find happiness, your best friend who you desperately love, or your totally badass mom who couldn’t give two fucks about anything
The year is 1979, the place is Santa Barbara, and Dorothea (Annette Bening) is concerned about her son, Jamie (Lucas Jade Zumann) not having a strong male influence in his life. So, just like any other rad mother would do, she enlists the help of his best friend, Julie (Elle Fanning) and tenant Abbie (Greta Gerwig) to help show him the ropes in life.
Heading up the family, Bening reminds us all of the fact that she’s still searching for that illusive Oscar. With her usual cutting delivery of stinging humor and that rugged determination—not without a hint of vulnerability—Bening dazzles the screen and makes us all want her to be our mother. Her love for her son shines through as she ponders his future and all of those around her.
Mills once again proves himself a necessary voice in the search of happiness. Where Beginners examined his coming to terms with both his father’s death and coming out, 20th Century Women shows him at that time of our lives where we finally start to come into our own, but the focus isn’t just on him. Both films shy away from sugarcoating the frigidity of life—not everything is sunshine and roses all the time, but happiness has its way of rearing its head in the most unlikely of ways. Mills drills deep into a well of personal experience to remind us that no matter what, we’re all in it together—along with music, dancing, and all the other ways we celebrate life.
Most importantly, Mills crafts a movie that highlights women and the massive impact they have on us. In doing so, he creates unforgettable characters like Dorothea and Gerwig’s Abbie, and gives them beautiful stories that don’t revolve around men. They aren’t just there to be dated and chased—they’re artists, friends and mothers brought to life by some of the best actresses working today.
Hollywood could do with learning how to write women like Mills, along with actually balancing the ghastly gender equality within the system. The need and want is there, Hollywood just has to get its head out of its ass and start representing women as much, much more than they have been.
20th Century Women can lack focus at times with its multiple false climaxes, but as a whole Mills does something more movies need to be doing. Highlighting women in a male-driven industry shouldn’t feel this refreshing, but hopefully with time movies like this become the norm and not the exception. Strong women deserve this much attention and care every day, so if you love your mother—or any woman—go see this movie and help make it more of a reality.