Watching 20th Century Women is kind of like looking at a photograph from 1979 and getting the background on every person, place, and idea in the frame. The film, as the title suggests, is about a swath of women all coming together to raise one very modern boy named Jamie. The women are Jamie’s mother Dorothea (Annette Bening), her boarder Abbie (Greta Gerwig), and her son’s friend Julie (Elle Fanning) — all the women represent different generations, different moments in a woman’s life, and different relationships to Jamie. And it’s great.
As for the film itself, it was written and directed by Mike Mills (who also did Beginners). Mills calls the movie “very autobiographical” — he called the Dorothea character “my version of my mom.” Watching the movie, you can see his love for her. You can feel it.
If immersive time travel and complex lady worship are what you want from your movies this holiday, 20th Century Women should hover at the top of your list. Here are a few more reasons to see the movie.
1 The women are complicated.
Like real women, none of the women here are simple. They come with secrets, and desires, and flaws, and impulses that even we as audience members don’t understand. But the film is non-judgmental about these traits, it gives us these women just as they are. And just as it should.
2 The relationships are also complicated.
You know the kinds we’re talking about. Where maybe you share a bed, and maybe you sometimes kiss, and maybe you’re secretly in love but you also see other people and who even really knows anymore.
3 Because of the bohemian home-life fantasies.
Annette Bening’s character rents out rooms in her house. Her tenants include Billy Crudup and Greta Gerwig but the house is certainly not only occupied by those few. It seems bohemian types are always wandering in and out — eclectic dinner parties abound and we wish we were invited.
4 And Greta Gerwig’s dance moves.
If you follow Greta’s movies, you’ve likely seen her dance before — in Frances Ha, most notably — but there is something endlessly charming and hopeful about watching her dance in 20th Century Women; ’70s punk on the record machine, Bowie hair flying all around, limbs so uninhibited and so wild.
5 It’s a masterclass for how to wear prints.
So many prints, so subtly worn, so beautifully understated. This was our awakening to add more bold patterns into our wardrobe rotation.
6 It will remind you to buy a copy of Our Bodies, Ourselves.
As Jamie is raised by these three women, some important feminist reading matter finds its way into his hands, including Our Bodies, Ourselves — which we really need to read again.
7 The psychedelic visuals are everything.
This is just to say, this movie has style and it isn’t afraid to show it. It’s also not afraid to draw outside the normal lines. For that, we are grateful.
8 The dialogue WILL get stuck in your head.
“I know you less every day.” “Don’t you need a man to raise a man?” “Wondering if you’re happy, it’s a great short cut to being depressed.” See?
9 The ’70s hair!
And not glamorous Farrah Fawcett hair, we’re talking counter-culture Bowie colors and shag; or long, blond, limp hair that’s always falling into your eyes. Suffice to say, we put it on our hair mood board.
10 Billy Crudup’s mustache = life.
Which we remember fondly from Almost Famous and were so happy to see again.
11 Two words: Annette. Bening.
Because unsurprisingly she is sensational. Because they’re already saying she’s a likely Oscar nominee. Because it’s a performance that made us think about women and our moms and what it must be like to be treated like a mom but still want to feel like a woman.
20th Century Women opened Christmas Day.