Annette Bening shines in her Golden Globe-nominated role as Dorothea, the hipster single mum who finds a novel way of parenting in late 70s California. Determined to ensure her son Jamie (Lucas Jade Zumann) respects women’s feelings as he embarks on his sexual awakening, she enlists the help of her kooky lodger Abbie (Greta Gerwig) and Jamie’s best friend Julie (Elle Fanning) to act as supplementary mother figures and feminist guides. Their thoroughly modern family unit is completed by fellow tenant and stoner carpenter William (Billy Crudup).
This wonderfully astute and piquantly funny ensemble drama is the latest treat from doyen of the US indie scene Mike Mills (Thumbsucker, Beginners), who earned his first Oscar nomination for a pitch-perfect screenplay that’s loosely based on his own upbringing. While many of the laughs do arise from the Dorothea’s unapologetically bohemian parenting skills, Mills is not directing us to laugh at these richly drawn and thoroughly sympathetic characters. Unlike the arch detachment seen in some US indie features, Mills is more concerned with crafting a genuinely affecting tale.
Offering offbeat insights into perils of parenthood, 20th Century Women also perfectly evokes the cusp of the 1980s, as punk radicalism makes way for a more conventional decade. And also confirms Mills as one of the major talents in American independent cinema.