Meanwhile, outside of the Batcave...
There is a self-satisfied preening to 20th Century Women — its adorable bohemianism, its “all human life is here” Altmanism — that began by driving me up the wall. But what goes up must come down. My interest trickled slowly back, like the down-drips of freshly applied paint. And isn’t that what writer-director Mike Mills wants us to be? Part of his mural of a time? The 1970s?
The film is a fictionalised homage to Mills’ mum, born to penurious times but growing into the age of peaceniks and prosperity. (Mills’ debut movie Beginners was about the coming out of his gay dad, played by Christopher Plummer.) Annette Bening, with lovably unkempt hair and face-creasing smiles, has charisma in overload as landlady Dorothea, bestowing benison on her boarding-house lodgers. A single mum with an only son, Jamie (Lucas Jade Zumann), she is also momma hen to the flame-haired hippy photo-grapher (Greta Gerwig), the macho potter and handyman (Billy Crudup) and Jamie’s zonked nymphet girlfriend (Elle Fanning).
Nothing much happens, which means lots of small things do. Fleeting sex, nights on the town, mild incursions of urban violence. Plus hectares of household talk about life and love, hope and despair: “Don’t mind her,” Jamie says of a Dorothea waxing garrulous, “she’s from the Depression.” Ultimately, though, who minds where she’s from? Eras and generations mingle productively in this film. It’s a social-historical mural that exists in flexitime, where America the Beautiful is an eternal and unassailable dream.