HTS Moderator , Reviewer
Title: 20th Century Women
HTS Overall Score:74
We all appreciate our mothers, especially those mothers who raised us by themselves when we didn’t have a father around. Single Parenthood is NOT an easy thing, and while I come from a 2-person parenting situation, my friends, cousins and neighbors did not. I watched firsthand the sacrifices made to get these people raised and functioning members of society (well most of them, my old neighbor is about as dysfunctional as they come, so you can’t win them all). Directed and written by oddball director Mike Mills, “20th Century Women” looks at an aging mother who has to come to the realization that raising a boy by herself when she’s NOT a man isn’t the easiest thing in the world. What happens is a semi-true to life story based off of Mike Mills own growing up that is a coming of age story for not only the young boy, but three different women as well.
You always hear it bandied around that all reviewers are alike. We hate all the movies that you love, and like snobby art films that no one has ever heard about. It’s kind of the unspoken rule of critics I guess. Well, I guess I got to break that stigma as I really didn’t find too much to write home about with this one. It got rave reviews when it was in theaters and most reviewers that I talk to have liked to loved the film. Myself personally, I found that I really enjoyed PIECES of Mike Mills’ story, but overall felt it was a bit disjointed and rather boring.
Set in 1979 Santa Barbara, the story follows Dorothea (Anette Bening), a single mother in her 50s raising her 17-year-old son Jamie (Lucas Jade Zumann). She’s come to the end of her rope in dealing with a high school age boy on her own without any male help, so she enlists the help of their housemate Abbie (Greta Gerwig) and Jamie’s young friend Julie (Elle Fanning). Abbie is that sort of hipster early 20 something artist who just wants to listen to punk rock music, get laid by older men, and be sort of angry at life. Julie is your average 17-year-old girl who is dealing with her own burgeoning sexuality while questioning the world around her. All three women have been tasked with helping Jamie grow up to be a well-rounded individual.
[img]http://www.hometheatershack.com/gallery/file.php?n=94314[/img]“20th Century Women” is a period based drama (although a much closer to home period than say the 1700s) that looks closely at what it’s like to grow up and mature. While Jamie is the focus of the film with the different women in his life affecting him, it’s really a coming of age story for all 4 of the main characters. Each one is coming into their own realization of themselves at differing stages of their lives and having to deal with the uncomfortable stages of growth. Dorothea is having to deal with being a middle-aged woman who hasn’t really been in love her entire life and is trying to raise a son that is almost foreign to her. Abbie has to deal with her own struggle with cancer, as well as the news that her life may not be exactly as planned, while Julie is leanrning about her own sexuality and how it incorporates into her worldview.
I get the IDEA of “20th Century Women”, I really do. It’s a love letter from Mike Mills to the women who shaped his life, and some of it DOES work. Sadly, I just found it rather boring and disjointed. The constant use of sped up cameras was a unique feature that sets it apart from many other coming of age dramas, but the meshing of all the different life stories really didn’t excite or intrigue me in any way. Elle Fanning is really starting to irritate me as the twiggy “hippy” girl persona that she’s been doing lately, and Annette Benning and Billy Crudup end up being the only good characters in the movie. There are entire scenes in there that just make me grate my teeth and wonder what the people were thinking, and then the next I’m chuckling at an interaction between Dorothea and Julie in their VW bug, or the realization that each and every one of them are broken people trying to put their lives together. It’s just such an uneven film that it’s hard to really settle in and enjoy the experience when one second you’re frustrated and the next scene you’re really enjoying it.
Rated R for sexual material, language, some nudity and brief drug use
[img]http://www.hometheatershack.com/gallery/file.php?n=94322[/img]“20th Century Women” comes to Blu-ray with a very nice looking 1080 encode that is framed in an odd aspect ratio of 2.00:1. It gives it almost the feeling of a 1.85:1 framed film, but just a bit trimmer. Interestingly enough I actually like that framing method a lot for the film as it gives the wider scope feeling of 2.39:1 and the more intimate close-ups of 1.78/1.85:1 at times. The digital photography is quite stunning, but has been color graded rather heavily to replicate the late 70s. Pastels and soft diffused lighting makes for a “groovy” looking flashback in time, but they also employed the use of some blasted out whites that can wash out the scene sometime. Really brightly lit scenes don’t seem to suffer so much from this, but darker shots show washed out blacks for a few moments and detail can suffer just a tad. Other than that clarity and detailing is stunning, as you can see everything from the age lines on Annette Beining’s face to the little wisps and curls of smoke from her cigarette floating in the heads. Yellows and tans seem to show the most pop in the image, but there are some pop out moments like Abbie’s brightly colored hair or the cherry red of a cigarette butt being smoked.
[img]http://www.hometheatershack.com/gallery/file.php?n=94330[/img]The lone 5.1 DTS-HD MA track on the film is quite the capable track, and fits right in along with many other dramatic films audio mixes. The dialog is the central focus of the film, and it maintains a very front heavy sound that is accented with some boisterous scenes (like the Club that Abbie likes to visit) and some acute background noises to make it a well-rounded 5.1 mix. The late 70s/early 80s punk and rockabilly score flows effortlessly through all 6 channels and this music is really where most of the LFE content comes from, and it tends to hit right in the midbass frequency range. Surrounds get a solid use with the score as well as your average drama heavy background effects which makes it a SOLID track, but not one that will blow the doors off with nuances and intensity. Well done, but simple.
• Audio Commentary with Writer/Director Mike Mills
• "Making 20th Century Women" Featurette
• "20th Century Cast" Featurette
“20th Century Women” is a love story to the single mothers and women who raised us from childhood to adulthood, and is a true to life story based around the rearing of Writer/Director Mike Mills. I’m a huge fan of coming of age stories, but for some reason “20th Century Women” didn’t really do it for me. I enjoyed certain scenes of the movie and certain concepts, but the rest of the time it felt strangely disjointed and left me with an oddly frustrated feeling. Things didn’t mesh well and by the time we had gotten to the halfway point I was already looking at the time remaining wondering if I could get through it. Audio and video were good to excellent, and the extras interesting, if not a bit slim. Personally I would give this one a hesitant rental before blind buying (although if you’re a fan already the package is quite nice).
Starring: Annette Bening, Elle Fanning, Greta Gerwig
Directed by: Mike Mills
Written by: Mike Mills
Aspect Ratio: 2.00:1 AVC
Audio: English: DTS-HD MA 5.1
Runtime: 118 minutes
Blu-ray Release Date: March 28th 2017
Buy 20th Century Women On Blu-ray at Amazon
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