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20th Century Women

Annette Bening plays Dorothea, 55 and a single mom raising her 15 year old son Jamie (Lucas Jade Zumann) in Santa Barbara in 1979. Dorothea decides that she needs help raising Jamie and enlists the aid of her tenants, Abbie (Greta Gerwig, a photographer-punk rocker who is dealing with cancer) and William (Billy Crudup), an auto mechanic, as well as Julie (Elle Fanning), who Jamie has known most of his life and who sneaks over to the house regularly to sleep with Jamie (strictly platonic). The movie doesn’t have much of a plot, but oh my, it is really wonderful with such rich character development! The story serves as a beautiful period piece that does justice to the era – feminist literature, punk rock music, and a particularly perfect speech by then President Carter that fits wonderfully with the direction of the story. The acting across the board is superb – you cannot help really connect with the characters who are all so different. Annette Bening deserves an Oscar nomination for her performance, and Zumann was terrific as a trying to understand women (including his own mother) and how men should be. The film was funny but also very poignant. The best thing about it is that the entire movie made me smile – it felt like I was riding in a lovely ocean breeze. Big thumbs up from me for a quirky film with great insights about the generation gap, growing older and the feelings of cultural disconnect, parenting (and parenting as older adults), and relationships. It isn’t only the teenagers who grow distant from the parents but the parents who grow distant from them as well. It is not often that I observe a story and feel like I have opened up to understanding life and relationships in a new way – this is one of those movies.

About Gary Burkholder

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