The ’70s was about more than disco and bellbottoms

Film | by Jorge Ignacio Castillo

20th Century Women
Opens  Friday 20
3 out of 5

Hollywood mainstay Annette Bening has been nominated for four Oscars over the course of three decades. She was beaten every single time, twice by Hilary Swank.

20th Century Women is likely to grant her a fifth trip to the Dolby Theatre, but odds are she’ll come up empty handed again.

It won’t be for lack of effort.

20th Century Woman is a spiraling, heartfelt comedy that compensates for its lack of structure with fully fleshed-out characters. The film’s aimlessness is part of its charm: the character’s struggle to find direction is highly relatable.

Regardless of the title, the actual lead of the film is a boy on the cusp of adolescence. Jamie (Lucas Jade Zumman) lives in a crumbling house that doubles as a hostel. The place is managed by his mother, Dorothea (Bening), a chain-smoking dreamer plagued by angst as her boy starts behaving like a teenager.

In an effort to make sure Jamie grows up into a “good” man, Dorothea gets her boarder, Abbie (Greta Gerwig), and the boy’s best friend, Julie (Elle Fanning), to help her raise him. Predictably, the women’s approaches to parenting clash and Jamie flips out.

Written and directed by Mike Mills (Beginners), 20th Century Woman is a cinematic stream of consciousness. Chronological anecdotes are interrupted by glimpses of the leads’ pasts and futures. This has to be one of the laziest narrative devices but it gets a fresh dimension as it enriches the characters’ behaviour with background context and therefore, significance.

Jamie, Dorothea and company’s drifting reflects their times. The film is set in the late ’70s, when social movements collapsed (or were sabotaged) and the era of selfish, “screw you, I’ve got mine” individualism — which culminated in the election of Ronald Reagan — dawned. Pointedly, 20th Century Women includes Jimmy Carter’s fateful “crisis of confidence” speech, a gloom and doom (and true) statement America didn’t respond well to.

A movie like this can’t be spoiled, so it’s fair to say nobody’s existence changes radically but the important things people learn makes a huge difference in the long run.

20th Century Women underlines a fact of life so obvious it’s often overlooked: surround yourself with good people. It pays off.