20th Century Women

Movie review by
S. Jhoanna Robledo, Common Sense Media
20th Century Women Movie Poster Image
Unique, powerful, mature look at '70s mother and son.
  • R
  • 2016
  • 118 minutes

Parents say

age 15+
Based on 3 reviews

Kids say

age 13+
Based on 3 reviews

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this movie.

Positive Messages

It's not always easy for kids to talk to their parents (and vice-versa), but it's important to keep the lines of communication open so the relationship weathers the bumps. Also, it takes a village to raise a child, and every villager has something to contribute.

Positive Role Models & Representations

They're realistically flawed human beings, but the women in this film are also some of the strongest female characters the screen has seen in a long time (even if they're not the most diverse bunch). Dorothea is especially distinct and impressive, even as she is flawed. Her love for her son is palpable, as is Jamie's love and respect for his mother.


A boy is picked on at school and beaten up. Teens paint homophobic slurs on a classmate's car. A woman throws furniture around in a fit of anger. Yelling.


Couples are shown starting to undress as they get ready to be intimate; a bare back is seen, for example, but there's no graphic nudity. Many frank conversations about sex among both teens and adults. Some discussions about a young woman's experience sleeping with teenage boys and an older man's experience seducing women.


Language includes "f--k," "d--k," "hell," "s--t," and more.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

One character smokes like a chimney -- she's almost always seen with a cigarette, and the possibility of getting cancer from smoking is discussed openly. Teens also light up; one teen smokes from a bong. Teens also drink, as do adults, sometimes to excess. Characters are shown driving right after drinking. Discussions about weed.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that 20th Century Women is a thought-provoking, compassionate, and stirring dramedy about a single mother (Annette Bening) and her 15-year-old son (Lucas Jade Zumann) in the late 1970s. It's a coming-of-age movie that deals with weighty subjects like divorce, parenting, identity, relationships, sex, and intimacy -- but also conveys the importance of communication between parents and their children. Expect frank talk about sex (including teen sex) and a few quick flashes of skin -- for example, a woman's bare back). One character smokes like a chimney, characters drive after drinking, teens drink and smoke from a bong, and there are discussions of drug use. A boy is picked on at school and beaten up, and teens paint homophobic slurs on a classmate's car. Language includes "s--t," "f--k," and more.

User Reviews

  • Parents say
  • Kids say
Adult Written byjosephine l. December 17, 2017


If your child is mature then this is probably an okay film. It’s 2017 and i suspect that every 14 year old knows about sex and certain drugs so the topics won’t... Continue reading
Adult Written byjoaquingv September 5, 2017
Teen, 14 years old Written byhellohi234 September 26, 2020


I just finished watching this movie, and it really is an amazing film. Parents I urge you to let your kids 14 and older (or 13 if your kid is really mature) to... Continue reading
Teen, 14 years old Written byloucinema July 23, 2020

A historical masterpiece with a sustainable level of maturity.

I believe this film should be viewed by young teens and older, because this movie itself opens young people's eyes, as the young characters are susceptible... Continue reading

What's the story?

In 20TH CENTURY WOMEN, single mother Dorothea (Annette Bening) and her 15-year-old son, Jamie (Lucas Jade Zumann), are trying to make sense of their lives in Santa Barbara, Calif. Jamie's dad is long gone, and the mother and son live in a big house that's perpetually being restored, thanks to William (Billy Crudup), one of Dorothea's boarders, who barters repair work for rent. Also living there is Abbie (Greta Gerwig), a former New York photographer who's come back home to California after discovering she has cancer. Every once in a while, Jamie's best friend, 17-year-old Julie (Elle Fanning), sleeps over; Jamie would love to actually sleep with her, but for now they're just very good friends. Dorothea and Jamie have always been a unit, but when he starts to agitate for answers about his father -- and, more importantly, about his mother's internal life -- they hit a rocky patch and she recruits William, Abbie, and Julie to help Jamie figure out what kind of man he wants to become. But is that what Jamie needs?

Is it any good?

This indie dramedy isn't your average movie -- which is another way of saying it's fantastic. An original story executed by writer/director Mike Mills in a singularly specific and refreshingly offbeat way, 20th Century Women requires viewers to surrender to its rhythms -- and its whims. The movie's biggest strength is its characters, who are, to a person, distinct and interesting, and therefore engaging to watch. The story also provides heartbreaking insight into what binds mothers and their sons -- and what drives them apart.

The film will no doubt have its detractors because it can be frustrating how long it takes to connect the dots (and it doesn't even connect all of them). But you won't likely finish it without feeling changed somehow for having watched it and having spent time with Dorothea, one of the more interesting women to grace the screen in years.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about how 20th Century Women depicts drinking and drug use. Are they glamorized? Are there realistic consequences? Why is that important?

  • How does the film handle the topic of teen sex? How is that approach different from other films? Parents, talk to your teens about your own values regarding sex and relationships.

  • Talk about Dorothea's relationship with Jamie. Are they close? What are the challenges they face, especially as Jamie becomes a young adult? How does their story show the importance of communication?

  • How are the characters' lives influenced by the politics and social upheavals of the 1970s? How is their substance use presented through the prism of the 1970s? How have things changed since then? How are they similar?

Movie details

Our editors recommend

For kids who love dramas

Character Strengths

Find more movies that help kids build character.

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