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20th Century Women

A warm, wise and funny movie about the million messy ways people support each other

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Five years ago, Mike Mills made Beginners, a film loosely based on his dad’s late-in-life decision to come out as gay. Now the women in his life, particularly his mother, get the inspired-by treatment in this ensemble dramedy. It’s 1979, and in Santa Barbara, Calif., single mom Dorothea (Annette Bening) presides over a large Victorian boarding house; like most of its inhabitants, the house has good bones, but without some TLC is in danger of falling apart. There’s her teenage son, Jamie (Lucas Jade Zumann); resident handyman William (Billy Crudup); punkish photographer Abbie (Greta Gerwig); and Jamie’s buddy, Julie (Elle Fanning), who sleeps over a lot.

Sensing she is losing touch with her son, Dorothea recruits Abbie and Julie to help forge new connections. (Spoiler alert: Everybody here needs new and improved connections.) That’s the set-up for a shaggy tale about family (actual and created), growing up, friendship, love, claiming the right to be angry/sad/happy/bored, and the million messy ways people support each other. In the lazier, hazier days before tech, there’s simply a lot of hanging out. Fortunately, these are people you’d want to chill with, especially Bening’s Dorothea, who is imperfectly marvelous. It’s a warm, wise and funny movie that is heartwarming without being sappy.


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