20th Century Women – Review

20th Century Women

20th Century Women

In Santa Barbara, California in 1979, Dorothea Fields (Annette Bening) is a single mother in her mid-50s raising her teenage son, Jamie. 20th Century Women is based in part on director Mike Mills’ childhood: he is telling the story of his own mother.


The film opens with Dorothea and Jamie in the supermarket. They look out the window and see their ancient car up in flames. A sad beginning, but the relationship between mother and son is heartwarming as they stay calm and laugh off the event.


As Dorothea and Jamie make it home we are introduced to Abbie, Julie and William. The Fields’ house is very old fashioned, and is being renovated with the help of William, a subtle but important character played by Billy Crudup.


Abbie is a broken young girl who is recovering from cervical cancer, and has no relationship with her mother. With her bright red hair and quirky clothes, she cuts a distinctive, memorable figure.


We learn that Abbie had been adamant about leaving Santa Barbara when she was younger, so she went to art school in New York. She felt it was a place she belonged, where people understood her. However, she was forced to leave due to her illness. When Abbie’s relationship with her own mother hit rock bottom, Dorothea opened her doors to the wayward young woman and rented her a room. It is clear Dorothea and Abbie have developed an honest, caring relationship.


Julie is a 17-year-old girl who, like Abbie, does not have a good relationship with her mother and frequently visits the Fields for company. Julie and Jamie have a will-they-won’t-they type of relationship, but let’s just say Julie is a little more ‘experienced’ than Jamie. Most nights, Julie sneaks into Jamie’s bedroom for regular sleepovers.


Jamie and Dorothea have a strong relationship, but it is 1979, the height of a cultural movement: punk rock. Jamie is becoming a typical teenage boy to the point where Dorothea, Abbie and Julie sit down to discuss what is best for him. The conversation brings up the question of whether he needs a male figure in his life? Dorothea is firm and says no: she is divorced and proud. Dorothea asks the girls to talk to Jamie since they, sadly, know him better than his mother now.


To experience Jamie’s mind-set and the punk movement, Dorothea attempts to ‘get down with the kids’ and asks Abbie to take her out. The punk rock scene is a whole new world to Dorothea, who is used to slow dancing and good-old-fashioned romance.


Jamie has three strong females in his life to look up to and they introduce him to many new experiences such as nightclubs and the art of women. After reading several books on women, Jamie eventually comes to the conclusion that he may be a feminist.  


This coming of age film transports us to another world, and no doubt makes women proud. It’s a film bursting with warmth, love and laughter. Annette Bening plays the strong, single female role wonderfully. 20th Century Women is no doubt a must-see movie for all.


20th Century Women was released in Irish cinemas last Friday, February 10th.

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