Remember This: 20th Century Women

20th Century Woman flew under the radar, so Henry Jordan recommends why you should watch it.


Earlier this year, amid the clutter and noise of the awards season, one especially beautiful film was lost in the tidal wave of contenders. It achieved only one nomination at the Oscars (a well deserved one for original screenplay) but, with star Greta Gerwig returning in force to the awards circuit with Lady Bird, now seems like the perfect time to show 20th Century Women the love it never quite received but truly, truly deserved.

The story of 20th Century Women (as it is) is that of Dorothea, a single mother in 1979 (played with elegance by Annette Bening) choosing to raise her son Jamie (Lucas Jade Zumann) with the help of her female tenant Abbie (the aforementioned Greta Gerwig) and his friend/potential love interest Julie (Elle Fanning at her best).Together, they help teach him about love and about rebellion, and about how to become a man in the frightening new world that’s emerging – something that is only made more pressing by the the setting of 1979 in California.

you will believe and fall in love with every character

This setting is also wonderful because it means most of the soundtrack is Talking Heads and that’s always a great thing. The freedom of the Seventies is a bubble, about to be burst be Reaganism, but only Dorothea in her narration is aware of this. It lends an elegant naivety to proceedings, as we, the audience, know all this will crumble, that this too shall pass.

Performance wise, expect nothing but perfection. As the lead, Annette Bening, is captivating, topping her stellar performance from American Beauty. There’s sadness – that much is to be expected from a widow – but what is surprising is how much warmth Bening resonates. Gerwig may have the best arc of the film and she works hard to make sure that it really does resonate. She loves and she loses but keeps a brave face, so empathetic because she does her best while her world crumbles. The two teenagers, Zumann and Fanning, do great work and their story made me very emotional due to its proximity to events I’d experienced. With a supporting role also there from the ever wonderful Billy Crudup, you will believe and fall in love with every character.

Whenever I think about this film, what always comes to mind is the pacing. See, I’m usually a stickler for brevity but this film wanders and I love that. The simile that comes to mind is of Michael Sheen movies mid to late seventies. Both Badlands and Apocalypse Now are wandering films but most relevant is the rhythmic, almost hypnotised dances he performs throughout both. 20th Century Women is that in film form, a film that wanders and weaves with seeming aimlessness yet it remains utterly beautiful and hypnotic. With that said, when the film wants to pull at your heartstrings, it can do so with pinpoint accuracy, one particular conversation between Jamie and Julie about sexuality bringing me close to tears anytime I think about it. Simply, if you were unlucky enough to miss 20th Century Women at the start of the year, there’s never been a better time to immerse yourself in the beautiful world of California in the late Seventies.

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