Finding meaning in a world of excess

Finding meaning in a world of excess

Review: 20th Century Women

(M) Annette Bening, Elle Fanning, Greta Gerwig

There are not many films out there that make you feel. Feel enough that your eyes well up and you’re not quite sure what struck a chord. That’s 20th Century Women.

It’s 1979 in Santa Barbara, California, and single mother Dorothea (Annette Bening) — having grown up during the Depression — just wants to make sure her son has a happier life than her own. Feeling a disconnect because of the generational gap with her son Jamie (Lucas Jade Zumann), Dorothea recruits Abbie (Greta Gerwig) and Julie (Elle Fanning) to help Jamie navigate through his teens. This is Dorothea’s way of toying with the major questions of what it means to raise a good man and, even, what makes for a good man.

Portrayed through the lives of these three women, this film has a simple narration about strength and durability above all other emotions. There is a sense of sadness and hope in the telling of where they end up, as they move to the next century. It’s also poignant how these women cannot be defined by a single word or even a sentence; they just are.

There is no doubt that this is Annette Bening’s film, with her charismatic and Golden Globe nominated performance leading the way. Her flair and take on Dorothea holds the film together. But there is also a welcome mix of comedic flavour to balance out sombre elements, resulting in a film deserving of its Oscar nomination for Original Screenplay.

As much as Dorothea’s son Jamie is a focal point, 20th Century Women explores sexuality and feminism — if that’s what you call giving women a platform to express themselves and their resilience. Briefly challenged on-screen is what is appropriate for women to say about the natural changes to their bodies. Also addressed are the complications which resulted from some of the first fertility pills (that caused cervical cancer), and the first at-home pregnancy tests.

Former American president Jimmy Carter’s “crisis of confidence” speech — portions of it punctuate what is happening on-screen — overall captures the essence of 20th Century Women.  For those unfamiliar with the speech, it confronts how we are numbing ourselves with materialism while we all have a need to go deeper, to find meaning and purpose in life.

20th Century Women does go deeper and director Mike Mills (Beginners) delivers a film that will make audiences want to go back for seconds and thirds.

Looking Deeper

What does the bible say about finding the meaning of life? (John 14:6 John 6:53 Matthew 22:39)

Melissa Stewart

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