The University of Vermont's Independent Voice Since 1883

The Vermont Cynic

Filed under Arts, Reviews

Film captures struggles of family life

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Adolescence is the first period of self-discovery, where we discovered adulthood not only through our own behaviors, but also in the people around us.  

The film,  “20th Century Women,” a newcomer to American theaters, is one that approaches the process of adolescence unconventionally.

The film presents a coming-of-age portrait constructed from multiple outside perspectives. Ultimately, it’s a movie not just about the growth of a single individual, but the growth of various surrounding figures within the context of a tumultuous historical era.

Set in southern California in 1979, the film interweaves the stories of single mother Dorothea Fields (Annette Benning) and her son Jamie (Lucas Jade Zumann) with their two lodgers, Abbie (Greta Gerwig) and William (Billy Crudup), as well as the rebellious Julie Miller (Elle Fanning), who is Jamie’s best friend.

Feeling increasingly out of touch with her own son’s growth, Dorothea worries that Jamie isn’t getting the proper guidance he needs in order to safely navigate the confusion of adolescence.  

She decides to enlist both Julie and Abbie to teach her son survival tips and nuances of the adult world in place of an absent father figure.

Benning’s portrayal of a woman struggling to connect with her rapidly growing son is touching and humorous, yet slightly sad.

Gerwig creates a portrait of a 20-something year-old photographer who is both cynical and genuine, and Fanning plays the typical angsty teenager who hides a fragility underneath her steely, cigarette-smoking exterior.  

With their own distinct quirks and insecurities, Dorothea, Abbie and Julie each resonate as relatable characters.

The movie may appear to be about the budding perspective of a young man, but the true centerpieces of the film are the women and the impact they have on Jamie’s view of the world around him.

It  is also keen to point out a new feminine identity emerging out of the late 1960s and ‘70s, one who is empowered in her decisions and vocal about her place in the world.  

Abby best embodies this new archetype of 20th century womanhood, and accordingly clashes with the more old-school Dorothea.

The audience sees Jamie accompany Abbie to Planned Parenthood, and Abbie also gives Jamie feminist literature to read as he pushes through puberty.

Touching on the impact of historical change, personal relationships and the various dimensions of femininity, “20th Century Women” is a quirky, yet engaging tale with psychedelic cinematography, dynamic characters and an appetizing blend of humour and poignancy.

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The University of Vermont's Independent Voice Since 1883
Film captures struggles of family life