20th Century Women

“This is the really hard part, and then it gets better, and then it gets hard again.”

Ralph Waldo Emerson said, ‘Life is a journey, not a destination”. It’s an old adage that has become unquestionable truth. We’re born, we live, we die. Every day live we breathe, sleep and eat, constantly working towards the next thing – the next deadline,event or moment –  losing our precious time as we countdown, each grain imperceptibly falling until clumped together and we’ve run out. Gone. It’s a concept that doesn’t always work in cinema.

Don’t we go to the movies to waste that time, to voyeuristically watch/participate in someone else’s time? We want to witness their falls and triumphs from a safe distance, partake in the climactic moments of their time, then leave them. The hero’s journey is the greatest and most recognisable narrative arc there is, formulating the backbone of storytelling since in memoriam. It entertains and imposes messages, yet doesn’t quite reflect human existence. Life is not a succession of aimless & empty waiting for a call to arms, then a bright shining moment with an indisputable end. It’s a series of moments, often good, often bad, that make us who we are. It’s not the big moments who make up our time and who we are – it’s the small ones. It’s the conversations and the people who shape the meaning of our time.

That’s why ’20th Century Women’ is so extraordinarily beautiful, and serves as a rather oddly delightful double-bill to ‘Toni Erdmann’ (click here for my review). Although very different films they share the exploration of happiness and meaning. They feature characters with clear flaws who remain phenomenal people; people you truly care about and wish you could be friends with. Bening is wonderful as the mother who feels that her teenage son is breaking away from her. She does so much with her all-too-rare leading role, creating a fully-formed character who seems to real. Zumann’s wonderfully bemused as the teen going through it all in 1979. Fanning yet again proving her skill as encapturing insight into what it means to be a young woman. Crudup understated in a solid yet engrossing supporting role.  Gerwig astounding as the punk torn between two generations, managing to showcase so much pain and emotion with every facial expression.

The film doesn’t follow a linear, three-act structure. It doesn’t need to. Instead it takes more of a scrapbook, a series of vignettes and moments, approach. It works beautifully in encapturing the sense of mood – this is the time when The American Dream reached adolescence and realised growing up ain’t all it’s cracked up to be. The soundtrack is skillfully chosen to accentuate this sense of listless confusion, inner confliction and confrontational change. Few films allow the viewer to get under the character’s skin so deeply and portray them with such tenderness. The film epitomises a community’s crisis of confidence, a desperate need to find meaning and to make the most of time. Incredible that a film set so articulately in 1979 could find truest need and meaning in 2017.

five star

‘20th Century Women’ opened in UK cinemas on 10th Feb.

        Year: 2017         Run time:119 minutes       Dir: Mike Mills

Starring: Annette BeningElle FanningGreta GerwigBilly CrudupLucas Jade Zumann

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