I decided while I was trapped indoors watching random garbage on Netflix that I’d put a little intention in my viewing. This is how this project of the ABC’s of A24 came to be. I’ll be going over all the movies produced in alphabetical order from 20th Century Women to Woodshock.
20th Century Women is a slice of life/coming of age movie following a young Jaime (Lucas Jade Zumann), a young boy whose father left him as a child. Now, as he reaches adolescence his mother Dorothea Fields (Annette Bening), feels overwhelmed. To connect with him, she reaches out to Jamie’s crush Julie Hamlin (Elle Fanning) and a young photographer/tenant in Dorothea’s home, Abbie Porter (Greta Gerwig).
The late 1970s places 20th Century Women in a time when Dorothea’s as a mother, a woman, and an aging human are changing. Has she lived out her purpose? Has she lost the ability to seek happiness and find love as her life nears its end? We see the rise of punk rock that Jamie and Abbie idolize. Dorothea seems lost in a world that is changing rapidly.
The struggle between who we are and who we become is as relevant to 20th Century Women as any movie out there. Boomers feel scared and lost in this new world. The revolutionary millennial generation challenges gender roles and the status quo. Generation Z feels lost and stumbles through adolescent identity crises. It’s a movie about human development along the different stages of life.
Julie represents the youngest generation of women. She too is stuck in a world where women are sexually liberated, yet men still hold power. Julie is dehumanized as a sex object and learns not all men are worth her advances. Julie seeks to take control over her life in the arms of another. She’s seeking her place in the world and realizes that even if the important people in her life are not treating her well, through sex she can gain her own power.
Abbie is a punk rock feminist whose life has not turned out how she planned. She returns to a small town after feeling alive in New York City because of a cervical cancer diagnosis. She must find a new identity after she had figured it out. The grief and loss of losing her ideal life weigh on Abbie as comes to terms with the new normal. Tragic and beautiful, she finds post-traumatic growth at the loss of her future.
Finally, there’s Jamie, piece connecting these women. He learns what it means to be a man in this new era. As he tells his mother “I’m not all men, I’m just me.” It’s not that simple. As she explains, “Well, yes and no.” It’s this perpetuate challenge that we face. We are socialized to be a certain way. Yet, we are still not a unified front. Men. Women. We just are. We struggle with identity, trauma, love, loss, and life. We are who we were conditioned to become. We cannot escape the trappings of our outward appearance and how people treat us. Yet, we have these unique life experiences that build us into who we are.
No greater example of this undefined role of man and woman is how Julie, Abbie, and Dorothea tried to train Jamie to be a better man. They all have different ideas of what it meant to be a man. They all expect different things from men. Dorothea wants a man who is stable and does what they say they will. Julie wants a self-confident man who does not care what anyone thinks. Abbie wants a guy that respected her for her femininity. There is no “ideal man.” That to truly love ourselves is to see ourselves as we are. Some women want Dorothea’s man, and some want Abbie’s. 20th Century Women delivers a perspective on accepting ourselves and our own experiences. Learning that who we are is less defined by society and more defined by our experiences.
Overall, 20th Century Women was an amazing movie. It was beautifully filmed, and the acting was all top-notch. I think critics would claim that the movie really didn’t go anywhere. That there isn’t much development throughout the film. It is a slice of life film. We don’t change over the course of a couple of months. Human development is a progressive phenological experience. That is what this film captures perfectly.