Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Twentieth Century Women

Dorothea Fields (Annette Bening) the lead character of Mike Mills’ filmic memoir 20th Century Women resembles the figure of Hannah Arendt (Barbara Sukowa) in Margarethe von Trotta’s film to the extent that both characters are chain smokers. There the comparison ends, as Mills’ paper thin 20th century woman is no match for one of the greatest philosophers of her time.  Fields is a single mom bringing up her 15 year old son Jamie (Lucas Jade Zumann) Southern California style, during the waning years of the punk era. Twentieth Century Women is a coming of age story, not only for the adolescent protagonist but for his parent too. In this regard it bears resembles The Diary of a Teenaged Girl, also set in a California milieu in a similar era and based on Phoebe Gloeckner’s autobiographical graphic novel of the same name. Therein another resemblance also ends. Such stories are all about sensibility or the filter through which the disquisition unfolds. In the case of The Diary of a Teenaged Girl, the viewer sees the world through the unique consciousness of a talented author and comic book illustrator whose inner mind is often rendered by way of the animation in which she will eventually make her mark. Annette Bening summons every crow's foot at her disposal to increase the meaningfulness of her gazes. But though Twentieth Century Women has its moments, like a hysterical scene around a dinner table where the feminist infused guests start to talk about their vaginas, most of it is like Dorothea’s Volkswagen Beetle. The movie epitomizes an era with small brush strokes that ultimately do little justice to it. At the end Mills uses the device of flashing forward. Yet the revelation of his real characters' fate does little to make up for the fact that they never seem to have come to life in the first place.

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