This a beautiful film. Beautifully shot in the hazy Californian sunshine. 20th Century Women is set in Santa Barbara at the end of the 1970s. Annette Bening is superb as Dorothea Fields, a chain-smoking, 55-year-old single mother living in a shared house with her 15-year-old son Jamie (Lucas Jade Zumann). Greta Gerwig, Elle Fanning and Billy Cruddup are all brilliant as the housemates. And the young 20th Century Women are invited by Dorothea to help guide Jamie through adolescence, which proves to be touching, cringe-inducing and funny – there are some great one-liners. And being 1979, the soundtrack is ace, too. Dorothea has Sinatra’s As Time Goes By on repeat while Talking Heads and The Clash’s White Man In Hammersmith Palais (one of my favourite songs, ever) blare out from the other bedrooms. The laid-back 1970s styling is lovely; Bening’s character Dorothea wears Liberty prints and Birkenstocks ‘because she’s contemporary,’ and as the house is in constant need of repair, makes an appearance in an Industrial Onesie.

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Photo: New York Times

My friend Annie invited me to a preview of 20th Century Women last night (Annie thought the film was like Boyhood, though it reminded me of The Kids Are All Right), followed by a Q&A with Annette Bening. The 58-year-old actor grew up in Southern California and of reading Mike Mills script said, ‘My head exploded. This was the world I grew up in and I had a strong, intuitive reaction to it.’ She also spoke of the pressures on young female actors today and the importance of having a sense of separation between public and private life. I like what Bening said about her own family life/ life-stage:

‘I have enthusiasm for this stage of life. I have four children and they are almost out of the house, so essential day-to-day parenting is changing. It’s fantastic and we don’t hear enough about that; it’s very liberating to be a new person in the world – even when you are a veteran.’

22 thoughts on “This is a fantastic film – 20th Century Women with Annette Bening

  1. Annette Bening is one of those Actors who elevate every film they touch. For example the re-make of Hollywood classic The Women would have been dire had she not been cast. Needless to say I’m a fan 😉
    I’ll definitely be catching her latest film especially since the yummy Billy Crudup is also in it!

  2. Thanks so much for alerting us to this film. Love, love Annette Bening. Just watched the trailer and an interview and this film looks amazing. I have three children – two adults with their own children my surprise package child who has just started Uni. with all the ensuing dramas. He, too, comes out with smart ass questions about the state of my wellbeing/mental health/happiness – it really is quite disconcerting! Isn’t Annette Bening gorgeous – quite an icon for stunning women d’un certain age.

  3. Thanks for the recommendation, it sounds right up my street. Am a big fan of Annette Bening (doesn’t she look amazing in the photo above?) and I fell in love with Santa Barbara when I visited. Can’t wait to see the story unfold against a backdrop of Californian sunshine and scenery – plus fashion and music of the 70’s. What a treat.

  4. I’ve seen a trailer. Of course it’s not going to be a film for the masses and there’s beeen less fanfare. So it’s easy to almost forget.
    After reading this, I’m 100% going to enjoy it as soon as I can. I get to relive my youth (lived up the coast in Santa Rosa, California in 1977) and also see my current reality reflected in a film – liberal 55 year old single mom.

  5. Never posted before, but just have to say I love this site its so eclectic, makes you feel glad to be a woman, even on a bad day.

  6. I shall look out for this, thanks Alyson. I’m certain you won’t be abandoning fashion, but interesting to read other cultural recommendations too

  7. Alyson, thanks for the film recommendation / review. I’ve not seen her in a film in years.
    BTW, her red glasses are fab with that red lipstick. I think I’ll try that, too. 🙂

  8. Just saw the film. Completely agree on how wonderful it is. When I was a teen my mother, named Dorothy, got divorced and took in boarders. It all hit close to home. I also loved seeing a beautiful woman actress over 50 who has an untouched, real face! Visible wrinkles! Can’t recommend this film enough! Love your recommendations on any and all. Thank you!

  9. I just saw 20th Century Women last night and LOVED it! I grew up in Santa Barbara (and even wrote a novel–The Summer of Naked Swim Parties–about SB in the same time period) and found the portrayal of the place and time to be beautifully, perfectly, executed. The dialogue was great. Annette Bening was amazing. Billy Cruddup was like so many men I knew as a young girl in the 70’s. I hope hoards of people go out and see this movie. It’s so much better than the cartoon-driven action-fests that dominate most screens.

  10. I also loved this film. Good performances from all.

    I’ve always admired Annette Bening, of course, but now am also very impressed that she shows her natural unadulterated beauty at age 59.

    Recently watched “Genius”, a pretty good film with Colin Firth as Max Perkins & Jude Law as Thomas Wolfe. Nicole Kidman had a featured role & I was distracted from her performance by the obvious “interventions” she’s had to her face. She is still stunning, of course, but looking “doctored”. Which is sad in a wonderful actress, who is now moving into her character actress years.

    Hard to say goodbye to that beauty, I’m sure. Never my problem! I have compassion for Kidman, but I have admiration for Bening’s courage to keep moving forward as she ages.

  11. I absolutely agree with all the comments as I was thinking the same, how beautiful Annette’s face looks and how disturbing it is for me to see Nicole Kidman’s puffy face. I also agree that it must be very sad to grow old when you have been stunning (not my case either!). Breathtaking beauty belongs only to young people, we should aim for the beauty which comes from being wiser and more experienced.

  12. Thanks for the recommendation. I shall certainly see this when it opens. Interesting that Annette Bening was featured on cover of the Observer magazine with a profile within. Her outfit exactly like the black polo neck old Levi jeans you had written about recently Alyson. A peep of bare ankle between let down hems and suede ankle boots with chunky heels. The whole thing accessorised with large round tortoiseshell glasses and discrete jewellry. Inside I noted another pair of big clear frames with red lips. A good look for an older woman right now in my opinion.

  13. I salute the filmmakers for taking an excellent script and keeping it an authentic, slice-of-real-life vehicle for family life in a certain time and place. Benning’s character was complex and un-cosmeticized (in every way) and of course, as noted by everyone, she performed brilliantly. There’s no neatly wrapped up ending with a public-pleasing resolution, after all, life moves on, and people will continue to change. I left the theatre feeling enriched by my new friends and refreshed by the film in general.

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