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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.
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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 ...
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?
- In theaters: December 28, 2016
- On DVD or streaming: March 28, 2017
- Cast: Annette Bening, Billy Crudup, Elle Fanning, Greta Gerwig
- Director: Mike Mills
- Studio: A24
- Genre: Drama
- Character strengths: Communication
- Run time: 118 minutes
- MPAA rating: R
- MPAA explanation: sexual material, language, some nudity and brief drug use
- Last updated: May 14, 2020
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