20th Century Women


            This is Annette Bening's show.  She plays Dorothea Fields, a 55-year-old single Mom who managed to have a son at 40, right before Dad left.  Jamie (Lucas Jade Zumann) is a good kid.  But Dorothea has started to worry that he doesn't have any influence in his life other than her.  So she invites her two renters and a neighbor kid to help out?

            One renter, William (Billy Crudup), is a construction guy who's constantly working on their “money pit” house---in exchange for rent considerations.  It might have been potentially a good bonding opportunity with Jamie, but alas, he just isn't interested in the building trade.  At all.  And William just doesn't have much else to say, anyway, besides talking about different types of wood.

            Abbie (Greta Gerwig), the other renter, is a wannabe photographer and self-proclaimed feminist, who thinks she ought to educate Jamie in some of the frank female talk of the movement, so Jamie learns a lot more about adult sexuality than perhaps he can process at age 15.  Not to mention when she takes him along to her ob/gyn appointment.  And just for good measure, she takes him drinking and dancing?  Well, at least she doesn't try to seduce him, like she does William, who happily complies, but then finds out that her ideas about role-playing sort of dominates the whole experience.

            Dorothea, for her part, is content to smoke cigarrettes and....smoke cigarrettes.  She doesn't think of herself as scatter-brained, but she does lose the car because it catches on fire in the department store parking lot.  She responds by inviting the fire chief to her Christmas dinner.  When Jamie asks her if she's happy, she replies, “You don't ask that question.  It's the quickest road to depression.”  She and Jamie follow the stock market every day, carefully noting prices of certain 1979 blue chips, like Xerox and IBM.  But it's not at all clear if Dorothea has two nickels to rub together; the cars she drives certainly don't scream “ostentation.”

            And neither does Jamie's best friend, the girl down the street, Julie (Elle Fanning).  She, too, loves to confide in Jamie, telling him all about her sexual activity, which he doesn't really want to hear about, because he's got a crush on her, but she ignores that, and assures him they're just friends.  Even though she frequently climbs in his bedroom window and cuddles with him all night.  She asks Jamie to help her with the pregnancy test, which is also a bit of an emotional overload for him.

            Finally, after a couple of mini-crises, Jamie summons the courage to tell his Mom what he really thinks: he doesn't need these other people to help “raise” him; he's just fine with Mom's company.  And he wishes she would be, also. 

            We can't help but like Dorothea, but we're not sure why.  She's not exactly a model Mom, and her attempts to “get out there and socialize” meet with predictable disaster.  But she is true to her own quirky version of herself, and somehow that's enough, both for her and for us.


Questions for Discussion:

1)                  How much sexual information were you given as a teenager?  Too much, or too little?

2)                  We're told “it takes a village” to raise one child, but what if the child would prefer that the village butt out?

3)                  Who's the most unforgettable character you've ever met?


Dr. Ronald P. Salfen, DFW Film Critics Association