In Mike Mills‘ 20th Century Women (A24, 12.25), Annette Bening has landed her best-written role since The Kids Are All Right, and she divvies it out in small, succinct portions, and in a relaxed and centered way. The upshot will be a Best Actress nomination. She won’t get more votes than La La land‘s Emma Stone (Scott Feinberg’s wildly enthusiastic projections to the contrary), but she’ll get a good run from all the praise and attention.
From my 10.8 review: Uproxx’s Mike Ryan has written that Bening is doing a “cover” of Frances McDormand‘s Elaine Miller, the headstrong mother of William Miller, in Cameron Crowe‘s Almost Famous. The difference is that 20th Century Women is told almost entirely from Bening’s viewpoint and not the kid’s.
Otherwise, meh. I got through 20th Century Women, but I never felt caught up or swept along or anything along those lines.
It’s basically a lefty, leafy period piece, set in 1979 Santa Barbara, about Dorothea, a thoughtful, laid-back, somewhat fickle character based on Mills’ mom (Bening). She’s a 50ish independent-minded divorcee who smokes too much, wears Birkenstocks, rents out rooms, holds down a drafting job and tries to get through to her son (the Mills stand-in, played by Lucas Jade Zumann, who’s supposed to be 15 but looks physically closer to 13) as he makes his way through early puberty.
Mills’ screenplay is all character study. The characters and situations are semi-diverting as far as they go, but nobody ever really does anything and nothing ever heats up. The film muses, meditates, dithers, meanders and piddles around. It has no real story, no arc, no tension, no pivot point and no climax to speak of. Just a lot of semi-interesting dialogue, and a few better-than-decent scenes and performances.
It’s partly the fault of the setting. Santa Barbara is a great place to chill and enjoy, but nothing interesting ever happens there except for Roger Durling‘s annual Santa Barbara Int’l Film Festival. It’s like what Orson Welles said about Switzerland in The Third Man — a tidy and bucolic little country from which the only noteworthy contribution has been the cuckoo clock.