Few production companies have garnered the same following as A24; with the continuous release of groundbreaking genre pieces and indie hits, the company continues to raise a rather large group of loyal viewers awaiting its next release, as most of their films have maintained a certain level of high quality filmmaking; 20th Century women is no exception. A story both uplifting and heart-rending, about a single mother in 1979 raising her 15 year-old boy with the help of two other women, each of a different generation, and a different philosophy.
Based loosely on the life of its writer and director Mike Mills, the film offers a realistic yet comical look on the lives of its main characters, with multiple voice overs from different characters each describing one another. Dorothea Fields (Annette Benning) is the moving force of the house (and even the film itself), a 55-year-old woman of the silent generation, a traditionalist who fails to connect with her son or his entire generation. She has an abiding concern that her son’s lack of a fatherly figure will affect his future personality. After her failed efforts to connect her son with their hipster lodger William (Billy Crudup), she decides that “you don’t need a man to raise a man”, thus she asks for the help of Abbie (Greta Gerwig) her lodger who is immersed in the punk scene of the 1970’s, and Julie (Elle Fanning), her son’s promiscuous friend and crush.
Jaime (Lucas Jade Zumann), the son, and the center point around which all the other characters tend to revolve, is from Gen X, bored and cynical. His remarks about his mother are often sharp and accurate, yet Dorothea’s belief that he is “just a kid” denies the validity of these remarks. His interactions with the women around him are as delightful to watch as his comments about them. The film uses a great amount of stock footage that goes along with the sharp commentaries the characters make about each other, and as the characters continue to introduce each other in chapter-like manner, the viewer is eventually presented with a lively and captivating assortment of characters, each with their own singular peculiarities and spirit.
20th Century Women may not involve fascinating events for its viewer to gape at. Its characters – bizarre as they may be – are strongly rooted in reality, and highly relatable. The film doesn’t even include a pronounced character arc. However, the clever selection of this time of American history, and the collage-like approach of the film, offer memorable insight into a time that was in fact the catalyst of the generation gap theory.