4 out of 4 stars
By Bayard Lewis
The lives of three generations of women are explored in 1979, amid a changing social landscape in Southern California. Dorothea (Annette Bening) is raising her son without a father in the picture and also becomes a mother figure to Abbie (Greta Gerwig) a young adult woman who rents a room in their home. The third woman is Julie (Elle Fanning) the best friend of Dorothea’s teenage son, who sneaks into their house at night to platonically share a bed with Jamie (Lucas Jade Zumann).
Each character is undergoing a unique identity crisis. The mother is at a point in her life where love seems like a faraway dream. Abbie, the renter, finds solace in punk culture and is starved for attention and love. The teenage son Jamie (Lucas Jade Zumann) is caught in the middle of the three women’s lives, as he tries to assert his individuality and ability to make life decisions. Concerned that he needs a role model to teach him how to be a man, his mother enlists the help of the other two women to provide support and guidance for his pathway to adulthood.
The film reflects deeply on the relationship sphere for women post-feminism. The women represent three generations who are forging their way through a dualistic culture that is both supporting their progress and hostile toward their power. The mother does not want to see the younger women take their freedoms for granted.
“20th Century Women” may only speak to a certain audience; maybe those who have grown up in non-traditional households, were raised by single mothers, or those who had unusual influences during their coming of age. For the right viewers, it could open a cathartic landscape and a place for self-exploration of identity and the meaning of relationships.