Today I saw 20th Century Women, starring Annette Bening and Lucas Jade Zumann.
Though the title leads one to believe this is a story about women, it's more accurately the tale of bringing up one young man—Jamie (Zumann) in the late 1970s. His mother, Dorothea (Bening), had him late in life and his father isn't around, so she fills in the parenting blanks with others. She does this by directly asking for their help in his development.
First on the list is Abbie (Greta Garwig), a cancer-fighting girl who is renting a room in her house. She's out of her teen years, but still young enough to be cool in the eyes of Jamie, and they enjoy a warm, brother-sister dynamic.
Next on the list is Julie (Elle Fanning), a girl Jamie is pining for who stops by almost nightly to sleep with him (but they don't have sex). She doesn't want to sacrifice him as a best friend and therefore refuses to be his girlfriend. Their intimacy is sweet and real and raw.
The consequence of three strong women mobilizing to guide a young man into adulthood? He runs the risk of becoming a rampant feminist, and therefore suffering the consequences of behaving like one.
The film is a humorous, albeit sometimes painful, exploration of that scenario and becomes even more powerful when we realize the story is based on the screenwriter's actual childhood.
Bening's performance is so good, I had to double-check the Oscar nominations when I got home because I was sure she received one (she didn't; total travesty). Dorothea is a loving, confused, misguided, sassy, intelligent, flawed mother ... and you feel everything she feels thanks to Bening.
The supporting players are also strong and well cast. Gerwig is a standout for playing an understated, tragic character.
The backdrop of Santa Barbara provides the tranquil, slow reality of this coastal family's existence.
I'm quite surprised this film isn't making more of a splash.