20th Century Women movie poster
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20th Century Women
20th Century Women movie poster

20th Century Women Movie Review

Available on Blu-ray and DVD on March 28, 2017 (Buy on Amazon)

I’ve had writer’s block when it comes to reviewing 20th Century Women. Why? I don’t know, but here goes nothing…

Annette Bening is receiving praise and there’s talk of Oscar glory finally coming her way, not because she gives the best performance of the year (she doesn’t) but because she didn’t win for American Beauty or the other three movies she’s been nominated for, and the respected actress deserves recognition. She’s great in 20th Century Women, but the movie isn’t all about her.

Writer/director Mike Mills (Beginners) has crafted a surprisingly engaging coming-of-age story that, despite its title and a cast that includes Elle Fanning and Greta Gerwig, focuses most on a teenage boy (Lucas Jade Zumann) as he navigates toward manhood without a father figure to guide him. The movie explores themes of feminism, parenthood and more, but at its core is a very simple story about growing up.

Few things are specifically notable about the events that unfold in 20th Century Women, which may be why writer’s block has haunted me for so many days as I try to write this damn review. I’m fairly literal, I prefer movies with crystal clear plots and I’m a guy who likes action movies and dark, fucked-up dramas—20th Century Women, on its surface, is not a movie I was destined to enjoy.

But enjoy I did. Aside from Bening, the rest of the cast is rock solid. Gerwig once again proves that she is one big role away from full-on stardom (if she wants it—it may not suit her), while Fanning and Zumann also bring to life interesting, complex characters. The most notable actor of the bunch is Billy Crudup, who plays a fascinating character that becomes tangled up in the web that Mills weaves. Crudup is fantastic.

But the acting alone isn’t enough. Mills’ screenplay is excellent, his ability to crash characters together and make drama happen from the smallest of moments an achievement in itself. And the film’s final minutes, where Mills races us through the futures of the characters we’ve spent two hours with, mark one of the best endings of any movie this year.

So, thankfully, my writer’s block is no more. It may not seem like it, but 20th Century Women is a difficult film to review—it’s well made and well-acted, but it’s also not for everyone. Some may find it slow, others may simply be turned off by the title (again, as a guy who likes action movies, this wasn’t a film I was exactly looking forward to), but it’s nonetheless full of pleasant surprises.

Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.

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