“Wondering if you’re happy is just a shortcut to being depressed.”
Director Mike Mills (Beginners) goes back to 1979 to tell the coming-of-age story of fictional 15-year old Jamie (Lucas Jade Zumann), and the coming-to-terms-with-age story about his mom Dorothea (Annette Bening), a 20th Century woman.
As if a Linkletter film, 20th Century Woman is a chain-smoking series of anecdotes that eventually takes shape into an insightful story. I’ve seen nontraditional family dramas like this before, but rarely with such witty dialogue and keen observations on life.
Mills’ story is augmented with time pieces such as President Carter’s “Crisis in Confidence” speech as well as arguments over whether punk band Black Flag or alt band The Talking Heads are the voice of the future. Holding this all together is a spot-on Annette Benning in an ode to motherhood that showcases the complexities, strengths and vulnerabilities of that role. It was over two hours, but I didn’t want it to end.
Award potential: Bening would have been a swell choice for Best Actress and Best Costume Design was a possibility, but the film escaped all Oscar nominations except for Best Original Screenplay. Greta Gerwig rocked her scenes, but her generalized character was a bit too trite to earn serious nominations.
The Ten Buck Review: Worth ten bucks.