20th Century Women Review: A Visually Striking Tour De Force

Mike Mills returns with another eye-catching family odyssey.

20th Century Women Annette Bening on great form Image 20th Century Fox

20th Century Women

119minutes (15)


It’s seven years since Mike Mills earned critical praise for the semi-autobiographical Beginners, but he’s lost none of his eye for visuals or the ability to imbue his work with a heartfelt human touch.

While that film was inspired by Mills’s relationship with his father, who came out as gay at the age of 75, 20th Century Women takes its inspiration from Mills’s mother and sister.

Set in California in the summer of 1979, the film earns points for creating an authentic feeling of the time, helped by an excellent soundtrack and the occasional sound bite or cultural touchstone of the time.

The performances, across the board, are superb from Billy Crudup’s understated showing to the real star of the show Annette Bening, who undoubtedly warranted an Oscar nomination for her performance as the restrained, chain-smoking feminist mother of Lucas Jade Zumann’s Jamie Fields.

Elle Fanning and Greta Gerwig also impress in roles both actresses will have been more than familiar with from their past experience on the screen.

But it’s Mills who deserves the most credit here. A non-linear, stop-start script full of cut-aways to sharply-detailed biographies of the main players is the sort of thing most filmmakers would steer clear of. But Mills not only embraces it but makes it work to the film’s advantage.

Much of that has to do with his flair for visuals though – something honed through his time as a music video director for the likes of Air.

Like a master painter at work, Mills creates scenes and mise en scene of genuine beauty and authenticity which, when combined with a thought-provoking and sharply-written script – creates a film unlike any other you will see this year.

Some may grumble at 20th Century Women’s lack of narrative focus, but in doing so they will be missing the true, personal and heartfelt message of Mills’ movie, which is every bit as personal a journey as Beginners.

Largely overlooked by the Oscars, save for a nomination for best screenplay, 20th Century Women is worthy of countless nominations – just make sure you go and see it yourself.

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