16 January 2017 | jdesando
Bening should be nominated in one of the best recent films.
"Guys aren't supposed to look like they're thinking about what they look like." Julie (Elle Fanning)
No they're not, but in Mike Mills' 20th Century Women, some rules don't apply, and the young man, Jamie (Lucas Jade Zumann), is well on his way to come of age in a most unusual household. It's 1979, before the Internet and Reagan and after the Punk rage. In other words, it's a time of cultural and personal transition.
No one is more responsible for this cultural migration in the Fields family than Dorothea (Annette Bening), a middle-aged matriarch with wit and lungs that will, in 20 years, surrender to the assault of her incessant smoking (her voice-over narration tells us so). Dorothea has the calm, contemplative, accepting nature to guide her two children, Jamie and Abbie (Greta Gerwig), into a responsible adulthood prefaced by sexual exploration and establishment defiance.
Although I rarely comment on acting, I must single out Bening for a performance of rich nuance, eschewing the theatrics of Oscar baiting to give us a character with immense affection and uncertainty, just like many of us, I suspect. Her low-key but powerful interpretation should get an Oscar nod.
While the examination of teen sexuality in flux is well described, so too is Dorothea's odyssey from a broken marriage to a Zen-like acceptance. As in the iconic Seinfeld world, nothing seems to be happening. However beneath that middle-class ambiance lie hearts struggling with their own shifting shapes under the watchful eye of family.
20th Century Women is all about the overwhelming part family plays in human development, not in grandly dramatic exercises but in the small notes like sitting in bed chatting or going with mother to a nightclub. As the credit sequence will tell you, life turns out fairly well despite the uncertainties of daily vicissitudes documented so distinctly here.