Told through a history of Polaroid photos and punk rock, “20th Century Women” follows the story of single mother Dorothea and her quest to help her teenage son Jamie grow into a man by surrounding him with women.
The movie is filled with characters so specifically weird that, on one hand, you can hardly believe their quirks and, on the other, you’d swear they were people you knew. The characters pile up as Dorothea continues to invite strangers to her weekly Sunday night dinners, a microcosm of the lively and moving dialogue that fills the entire film.
The writing is brilliant, but the actors’ deliveries complete “20th Century Women,” particularly Annette Bening’s portrayal of Dorothea, who struggles with the idea of her son growing up and becoming someone she doesn’t know, while simultaneously wanting him to mature. Bening brings impressive depth to this role, clearly showing the contradictions in Dorothea’s character, without missing a beat of the snappy back-and-forth dialogue.
The movie covers an impressive number of themes, including sexuality, love, friendship and coming of age, but perhaps the most relevant is the film’s nod to an America on the brink of a political shift, impending with the 1980 election of Ronald Reagan.
The forward-moving plot of “20th Century Women” takes place in 1979, but includes several flashback style moments, character histories and out-of-time futures narrated by Jamie or Dorothea. The format is surprisingly endearing, and brings a self-aware quality that allows the film to explore so many themes – and leave so many questions up to the audience.
The characters face diverse issues that can, and will, resonate with every member of the audience, making “20th Century Women” the perfect movie to end 2016. It’s an introspective, hopeful and bittersweet story about the people who come and go from our lives and how we find happiness with or without them.