20th Century Women

Fortunately, Ms. Benning is worth watching in an average film. I simply wanted this movie to be better than it was.

20th-century-women20th Century Women, written and directed by Mike Mills, focuses on three women as they struggle with the complexities of life. Taking place in Santa Barbara, California in 1979, the unfortunate fact is that the movie’s weakness overshadow its strengths.

Let’s begin with the accomplished Annette Benning, here playing a divorced mother in her middle 50s who is raising Jamie (Lucas Jade Zumann), a confused 15-year-old son. To help defray monthly expenses, she has three loveably perplexed boarders living in her home.

While Ms. Benning turns to her three tenants for assistance in giving her son some direction, that proves difficult when all three don’t know where they are heading with their own lives. Greta Gerwig impersonates herself playing Abbie, a young woman battling cervical cancer. She has no idea what her future holds, and her one skill is to dance wildly regardless of the location.

Elle Fanning appears as Julie, a woman in need of psychotherapy even though her mother is a psychotherapist. Though there is no sex involved, she regularly sneaks up to Jamie’s bedroom in the name of friendship. Unfortunately, Jamie has a hard time accepting the fact that sex is off limits.

Ironically, one of the better performances comes from the third tenant played by Billy Crudup. Just off his engaging performance as a journalist in Jackie, he combines a great sense of humor with various blue collar skills that make him quite handy in helping to repair the dilapidated home of Ms. Benning. Given the fact that he previously spent time in a commune, he is totally at home with this group of women.

The film has an endearing quality that resulted in producing frequent laughter in the viewing audience. However, while it may have been the result of me being forced to wear hearing aids, much of the dialogue was reduced to low level whispering by the actors. It reached the point that I really wished that this was one of those English films that contained subtitles.

Regardless, Director Mills clearly failed to achieve what he conquered in his previous film, Beginners (2010). There, Christopher Plummer exuded immense charm as an aging man admitting for the first time that he was gay. Here, none of the actors, including Ms. Benning, reached that bohemian level, as they usually retired to bed more dazed and confused than when they woke up.