Director Mike Mills pays tribute to his mother and his late '70s childhood with 20th Century Women. This one follows up Beginners, based on his father's decision to come out as gay as an old man. Christopher Plummer won a Best Supporting Oscar for that role and Mills was nominated this year for 20th Century Women's screenplay.
Annette Bening plays Dorothea, who gave birth her son in 1964 at age 40 shortly before her marriage broke up. Struggling to raise a teenager as a single mother in Santa Barbara, she rents rooms in her historic home to handyman William (Billy Crudup) and aspiring photographer Abbie (Greta Gerwig). Her 15-year-old son Jaime (Lucas Jade Zumann) is in (unrequited) love with his best friend Julie (Elle Fanning), a girl who has problems with her mom and ends up spending most of her time with the extended family.
Mills directed music videos and designed album covers for alternative rock bands back in the 1990s and he's very fixated on the rise of punk rock and new wave during his childhood. His mom was born in 1924, loves the big band music and jazz crooners of the 1940s and has absolutely zero understanding of the music that moves her son.
The film uses photos and footage from the 1970s (politicians, musicians, news events) to connect the characters to their era and Mills' collages give those moments in the movie a scrapbook feel. A centerpiece of the movie has extended family and friends watching President Jimmy Carter's notorious "malaise" speech. The reactions in the room are priceless.
20th Century Women is a movie about people who don't have a traditional family and how they create their own family units from the people around them.