For a movie that’s so appropriately titled, it’s somewhat surprising that 20th Century Women is essentially the story of a boy becoming a man. Granted, that man is raised by three very 20th century females.
“The film casts a lasting spell. As any good coming of age film should, it takes you viscerally back to your own innocence. A lot of that has to do with the enlightening storytelling, which conveys growth not just episodically, but through multiple narrators, often reading revelatory passages from feminist tomes of the day.”
And Billy Crudup.
First, let’s start with our barely-post-pubescent young boy, Jamie (Lucas Jade Zumann), skating his way through a confusing and fatherless existence in late ‘70s Santa Barbara. Jamie lives with his depression-raised-yet-modern mother, Dorothea (Annette Benning) in her old and in-constant-need-of-refurbishing home.
When Jamie stops listening to her, Dorothea employs the help of her renters — the handyman/mechanic/zen master William (Crudup); free and beautiful, Julie (Elle Fanning), who’s still-in-high school and celebrating the powers of her sexual liberation with everyone but Jamie; and afflicted Abbie (Greta Gerwig), a tortured artist with a keen eye for the impressively-hip Santa Barbara music scene.
The film casts a lasting spell. As any good coming of age film should, it takes you viscerally back to your own innocence. A lot of that has to do with the enlightening storytelling, which conveys growth not just episodically, but through multiple narrators, often reading revelatory passages from feminist tomes of the day. The spell lingers all the more because of the sweeping cinematography, the airy score, and the many kisses of golden California sun. Combined with awards-worthy acting, the film subtly captures the magic in the mundane.
But for me, the music really sets 20th Century Women apart. Upon listening to the soundtrack afterwards, you’re immediately taken back to a number of powerfully good scenes. Perhaps that’s because the music symbolizes the story, with age-old depression-era classics (Louis Armstrong, Benny Goodman) discordantly juxtaposed against the nascent punk and glam rock movements of the day. It’s the friction between the old and the new that drives the movie, sonically exploring how our old values will adapt to such bold, new times.
While the soundtrack surely rocks, there’s much more to the film to make it one every 21st Century Man should see. Former Beasties Boys album cover designer Mike Mills (Beginners) wrote and directed the film, based upon his own experiences growing up. it’s told from a male point of view, one shaped by strong, thinking, powerful women. If you’ve never had such an influence in your own life, get one. And start with these three. The movie (and life) prove it’s absolutely essential to becoming a strong, thinking, powerful man.