20th Century Women is overdramatic and curious to a fault. You can tell it’s a portrait of a mother drawn by her son. It’s too close—like a Monet from six inches. The film was birthed by Mike Mills and it is apparent he has a Freudian obsession on the woman who birthed him. He wrote and directed the film and it is his child.
The odd transitions, lingering scenes, resuscitated recitations of progressive talking points, and nostalgic voice-over narration just didn’t work. The 1970s are usually fertile ground for familial dysfunction, though I think the father character always plays a special part in that, and no-fault to the reality the story is based on, but this didn’t have that.
However, the performances—especially from Annette Benning as the mother—are quite wonderful. Greta Gerwig (always good), Elle Fanning, Billy Crudup (he’s always good, too), and newcomer Lucas Jade Zumann also gave great performances. Sometimes great acting just doesn’t add up to a great picture.
One has to be especially interested in the malaise and olive hues of the 1970s, early punk music, feminism, Annette Benning’s subtle skills, and Billy Crudup’s facial hair to seek out 20th Century Women.