Nicole M. Campbell is a KFI editrix. She thinks tableau vivant is pretty cool. This week, the Girl on Film gives us her review of the ensemble dramedy, “20th Century Women.”
Like French actress Isabelle Huppert - who just won the Golden Globe for Best Actress in a Drama for her performance in the movie "Elle" - Annette Bening is unafraid to take risks with her roles. Sometimes that extends to how she looks on camera.
The wrinkles are there for all to see in "20th Century Women." Bening plays Dorothea, a single mom in 1979 Santa Barbara. She's wise enough to know she doesn't know her 15-year-old son like the young women he hangs around with, so she employs their help in guiding him through part of the tumultuous teen years.
In between Jamie's life lessons on how to treat (and seduce) women and why the life-giving energy of punk music matters, we get to know the strong women, older and younger, impacting his life. Greta Gerwig is in fine form as a 20-something feminist who lives in Dorothea's boarding house. She's dealing with health issues and feeling tied down to her hometown. Elle Fanning is Jamie's best friend and crush, Julie, who finds safe haven from her home life.
There's even a man among the 20th century women. William (played by Billy Crudup, a great actor with a less-than-great last name) may look like one of the Village People with his spot-on-for-the-times mustache and muscle shirts but he's more substantive and doles out some great life advice to Jamie too. Watching William you realize he came by that knowledge the hard way.
I have always been partial to TV and movies set in offbeat locations, especially when it comes to California. (My favorite example is Sacramento on TV's "Eight is Enough.") The Santa Barbara setting of "20th Century Women" was a big draw for me, as was the time period. 1979 is in my wheelhouse musically and the director honors the sonicscape with Clash songs and photos of the Southern California punk scene. There's even a bit about Black Flag vs. Talking Heads fans. (I'm both and I'm pretty sure even Henry Rollins would say it isn't a conflict.)
In addition to time and place, a flash-forward narrative by some of the characters works to great effect. By the time it plays out, you have already emotionally invested in them.
The title of the movie may be a turn-off to people, especially guys, because it sounds historical and boring. This movie is anything but. A top-rate performance from Bening, a great supporting cast, a refreshing setting and the realization that even people in Santa Barbara have problems makes "20th Century Women" a movie to see in the new millennium.