Annette Bening as 20th Century Woman
By Skip Sheffield
What to do when mom is a free spirit and the younger people are conservative and confused?
That is the basic quandary of “20th Century Women.” Annette Bening plays Dorthea, the senior member of the gang. The setting is Santa Barbara, CA 1979. Dorthea has bought a 1905 Victorian fixer-upper. How a 55-year-old single mom could afford this huge house in pricey Santa Barbara is a question we dare not ask. It does provide a groovy, offbeat setting, and it provides a reason for three other characters; Dorthea’s hunky resident handyman William (Billy Crudup), and upstairs tenant Abbie (Greta Gerwig), a young cervical cancer survivor and photographer who frets about ever becoming a mother.
Then there is Dorthea’s 14-year-old son Jamie (Lucas Jade Zumann), who is facing the typical challenges of adolescence. Jamie has a crush on sexy neighbor Julie (Elle Fanning), who unwittingly (or maybe intentionally) torments him by sneaking into his bedroom at night to snuggle with him, but no sex allowed.
Jamie is the alter ego of writer-director Mike Mills (“Beginnings”), who has a few issues of his own to work out.
Not a whole lot happens in this rambling reminiscence. Dorthea’s Ford Galaxie catches on fire spontaneously. The fire is extinguished and Dorthea invites the fire chief for dinner. She gets a VW beetle, which is way cuter than a Galaxie.
Abbie gets the hots for much-older William and he succumbs. Though she continues to try to date, Dorthea doesn’t really have the hots for anyone. She’s just trying to fit in with changing times and provide as good a life as she can for her son.
Annette Bening is bravely bereft of makeup, and though lined and wrinkled, still beautiful.
Mills captures a time when we all wondered where we were going. It was the era between Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan. We all know how that went. As we face even more uncertainly, it is comforting to think we will slog through, come what may.