Sept. 19, 2017
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'20th Century Women' Review

January 18, 2017, 12:00 am

Jamie isn’t your average teenage boy raised by a single mom and coming of age in 1979. Or maybe he is. We join the unorthodox family in 20th Century Women as Jamie’s mom Dorothea (Annette Bening) is riddled with insecurity when she suddenly realizes she knows her teenage son (Lucas Jade Zumann) less with each passing day.

So she enlists the help of seemingly every friend the two can claim. This includes their two housemates—Abbie (Greta Gerwig), a punk-rock feminist with a killer record collection, and William (Billy Crudup), a hot hippie handyman with a sensitive streak. She also recruits Julie (Elle Fanning), Jamie’s longtime friend.

Together, they forge a sort of Montessori school wherein Jamie gets all kinds of man-building experiences and some straight-up doses of Life Ain’t Easy.

We were relieved Dorothea’s character comes across more like a real person than the over-dramatized TV mom she threatened to be. We want to be invited to one of her dinner parties. We admire her tenacity. Her deeply wrinkled, mostly make-up-free face annotates the raw pain of her aloneness. As Jamie begins the move from boy to man, she’s more aware that there’s not one in her life.

It’s tiresome, though, to always see Dorothea with a cigarette clamped between two fingers. We get it—people smoked all the time and wherever they wanted in the ’70s. Just maybe make it feel less like a dramatic crutch so we can laugh harder when she has to sneak one during William’s attempt to teach her how to meditate. It makes us sigh with relief when Julie tries to teach Jamie how to “look cool” and he replies, after a few minutes of failed lessons: “Smoking’s gross.”

Some other jokes in this film elicit laughs not because you see, but because you know. What diagrams does Jamie see in his new copy of Our Bodies, Ourselves? What happens when he explains his newfound knowledge of the clitoris to his high-school peers? In the end, it’s clear they’re all raising each other—but then again, we kind of all are. (Julie Ann Grimm)


+ Historic photos add to sense of context

- Put down the Salem, Mom

20th Century Women
CCA, Violet Crown,
119 min.


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