20th Century Women
seen @ Kew Gardens Cinemas, Kew Gardens, Queens NY
Looking back at the new releases for 2016 that I saw, one trend that sticks out is that of senior leading ladies in starring roles: Helen Mirren in Eye in the Sky; Sally Field in Hello My Name is Doris, Susan Sarandon in The Meddler, and now Annette Bening in 20th Century Women. In fact, when I first saw the trailer for this one, my first reaction was omigod, Bening's old! I suppose it's always a bit of a shock to realize your favorite movie stars, or any celebrity you've seen in the public eye long enough, may still be glamorous, but are no longer young. I've talked about this feeling here before; I've even devoted a blogathon to great performances by actors 50 and over.
Regardless, Bening is terrific in this semi-autobiographical tale from Beginners director Mike Mills. She's the divorced mother of a teenage son in the 70s. She fears losing touch with him as he grows up, so she turns to the closest role models available for help: his teen gal pal and the 30ish woman boarding in their house. They both strive to teach him how to be a woman's idea of a man.
I had both my parents around for my childhood, but over the past decade-plus of my life, the vast majority of my friends have been women: many of my close comics friends; Vija and her circle; Bibi; Jen; Sandi; and of course, most of my blogger friends.
Sometimes I wonder whether or not that's coincidence. I don't think I consciously seek women companions over men. I certainly didn't when I started film blogging, for example, and yet they're the ones I've been drawn to most, especially older women, to bring it back to that theme. Granted, the overwhelming majority of bloggers I've encountered have been female - don't know why that is - but even if the reverse were true, I think, though I'm not certain, I might still gravitate towards them.
In that sense, I suppose that makes me similar to the character Jamie, learning from the women who just happen to be around him. I don't feel like less of a man because of it. Romantic failures aside, I feel like I've learned things from them that I wouldn't from other men, as they, hopefully, have learned from me. Of course, that doesn't mean I fully understand them, but what man truly does?
What I liked about Mills' screenplay is his concision. He knows when to sustain dialogue within a scene and when to provide the bare minimum necessary, which could be no more than one or two lines. I recently talked about brevity while critiquing someone in my writers group. It's a problem I'm encountering with my novel - giving too much detail when it's not necessary - so it's something with which I'm becoming aware.
Mills' compositions, his experimentation with film speeds, his use of vignette-like shots in character moments, and even his occasional use of text, all remind me of Paul Thomas Anderson. Like PTA, Mills is good with balancing an ensemble of actors, all of whom fill niches within the story. He's a bit less showy when it comes to the actors. I could not imagine him writing a character like Frank TJ Mackey from Magnolia, or Daniel Plainview from There Will Be Blood, but that's okay. Not everybody can.
Women was a pleasant surprise. I knew it'd be good, but I didn't expect to be drawn into it as deeply as I was.