Not a moment too soon, 20th Century Women, a film wrapped in a 21st century embrace, is coming to Boise.
Director/screenwriter Mike Mills' life-enriching tapestry will, for years to come, be considered one of the best of 2016. 20th Century Women should also be recognized by the Motion Picture Academy (the film has had limited screenings in New York and Los Angeles to be eligible for the Oscars) when nominations are doled out on Tuesday, Jan. 25—particularly for Annette Bening's radiant lead performance.
January has long been relegated to being a so-called "spillover" month, when the best-of-the-best finally find a theatrical home after the overcrowded field of holiday films winnows away. 20th Century Women is worth the wait.
While this film isn't hobbled by any particular political leanings, it's also evident that 20th Century Women may be the sought-after salve to the misogyny-riddled annus horribilis that wrapped with Donald Trump's rise to power—especially because of how 20th Century Women uses another U.S. President's critical moment in history that may best answer the question: When did it start to go wrong?
Deep into the film's third act, Dorothea (Bening) and her friends are watching President Jimmy Carter's now-iconic July 1979 "crisis of confidence" address to the nation. Carter shamed the nation for what he called a rising tide of "self-indulgency" instead of a "more satisfying longing for greater meaning."
"We are at a turning point in our history," said Carter, warning of a "path that leads to fragmentation and self-interest."
Watching Carter's address, Dorothea reacts with optimism, calling the speech "brilliant," while most of her guests conclude that Carter's soul-searching plea will probably fall on deaf ears. History, of course, revealed Dorothea would be in the minority, and Carter's warning would cede to the Ronald Reagan era of consumption.
Mills (Beginners) brilliantly frames 20th Century Women with the Carter scene and other political or pop culture moments, but the story is achingly personal: It's an intimate telling of Mills' own story of being raised by a bohemian mother and two spectacular soulmates.
Dorothea's vision of how to shape the manhood of her teenage son Jamie (Lucas Jade Zumann) is unorthodox. To excuse Jamie from school, Dorothea writes notes suggesting he "has just survived a small plane crash" or had to "volunteer for the Sandinistas." She acknowledges her own limitations in teaching her puberty-shackled son about life's sharp edges.
"I know him less every day," she says, which is when she turns to Abbie (Greta Gerwig) and Julie (Elle Fanning).
Abbie, who is as fiery as her Manic Panic-dyed auburn hair, schools Jamie on music and sex: she even reads from Our Bodies, Ourselves. Julie, who is just a couple of years older than Jamie, gives Jamie cigarettes and Judy Blume books. She and Jamie sleep together but they never have sex for fear of damaging their friendship—Julie is, however, sexually active with plenty of other people.
"Half of the time, I regret it," Julie tells Jamie.
"Then, why do you do it?" he asks.
"Half of the time, I don't regret it," she replies.
20th Century Women is ultimately a scrapbook—a vibrant collage of emotional moments, some big, some small, but all important.
Soon after Dorothea's beaten-up Ford Galaxy goes up in flames, she reminisces that it was always a "great car." Jamie is puzzled, saying, "It was a terrible car. It always smelled like gas and it was old." Dorothea responds, "It wasn't always old. It just got that way all of a sudden."
20th Century Women reminds us how "all of a sudden" our lives truly are, but they're nearly always richer due to the women—from any century—who have shaped our lives.