I applaud the film’s portrayal of the myriad of differences and changes in the roles, identities and positions which were available to 20th century women.
These women are wonderfully portrayed by Annette Bening as Dorethea, a working, mid-50 year old divorced mother raising her son Jamie (Lucas Jade Zumann); Elle Fanning as 17 year old Julie, who only wants to be Jamie’s friend; and Greta Gerwig as Abbie, a 20 something photographer who also happens to be recovering from cervical cancer.
All except Julie – although she seems to spend most nights there – live in a crumbling mansion with another housemate William (Billy Crudupp), whose major role seems to be contributing to the sexual tension and dynamic of the household.
As most parents come to realise, their children inhabit a different world from theirs. The changes Dorethea sees in the world of 1979 lead her to ask Abbie and Julie to help in raising Jamie to be a good man, as if she no longer knows how to do this. Unsurprisingly, when the young women get too close to Jamie, with Julie and him taking off up the coast and Abbie encouraging him to read feminist texts such as Our Bodies, Ourselves, his mother then wants them to pull back, saying he’s just a high school kid and all this is too much for him.
It occurred to me when watching the movie that it is very Californian: the beautiful cinematography of the Pacific coast; the almost psychedelic special effects on the driving scenes; the musical score; and, of course, the flash-backs and forwards – both visual and narrative. This sense runs throughout the movie as everyone questions each other’s behaviours and feelings, and was reinforced when Julie speaks of her mother, a therapist, insisting on her attending her teenage girls’ group therapy sessions. I have to agree with Peter Bradshaw that ‘…it feels like someone else’s long therapy session’.
Despite this feeling, it still worth seeing.
Reviewed by Jan Kershaw
Rating out of 10: 7
20th Century women will open in cinemas across Australia on 1 June 2017.