20th Century Women was possibly my favorite movie of 2016, rivaled only by Moonlight. It came out in late December in NYC, and even though the IMDb page says it was officially released this past week, it somehow got nominated for best original screenplay.
Starting at the beginning, Mills continues his use of montage the way he had in Beginners. In a seemingly Amelie-style (just rewatched so it is on my mind) he goes through the backstories of the characters with incredibly specific and almost odd ways of describing them, but they shed so much light on who the characters are at their core while saying so little. In this regard, the film, to me, screams vulnerability and intimacy in this regard.
There was a prominent emotional theme of dancing. It was displayed as this physical expression of emotion that could be expressed to anyone or no one. It was consuming on an individual level for each of the characters, and we saw them all get lost in different dancing to different music (Art Fag vs. Black Flag) in different spaces (someone’s bedroom, hardcore punk show, club, etc.) It is a very common occurrence to hear someone say, “I don’t dance,” or, “I don’t know how to dance.” The movie directly answers this with the comment on punk music. It’s been a few weeks since I’ve seen the movie, but the line was something to the effect of: These are people who have emotions and passions that are bigger than the tools they have to express them. So someone with a guitar and microphone could have no idea how to play anything and know zero music theory, but they still have something to get out of them. This felt like a distinct parallel to dancing, and how even if people “don’t know how to dance”, it doesn’t matter, because you can totally feel the emotion of dancing in whichever way you experience.
When a family goes through two cars in one film, something is going on. The opening scene has their car burst into flames as it is sitting in the parking lot, and later on, the replacement car is covered in vilifying profanity. These different eras of cars are representing the changing time periods (of both the relationships involved and society on a whole). The characters in the film are constantly evolving their relationships with each other which are sort of synced with each new era of car. As for the societal parallel, the film is showcasing the rise of feminism and its impact.
Vehicles on a whole (cars, skateboards, etc.) are usually showed in a fast-forwarded speed, complete with rainbow colored effects. This is further establishing the sense of time passing. However, the final scene with Dorothea on a biplane feels very purposefully not sped up. That is the final moment. We aren’t changing anymore.
The dinner scene is one of the best scenes of the film, with each character sort of radiating their individual personalities without clashing. The dialogue is incredibly well-done, with Abbie and Julie speaking to the whole table, and Dorothea speaking to people individually, and Jamie sort of just soaking in everything around him. His experience of growing up. His role models.
The ending sort of loops back to the use of montage use of telling the story before this point. This is more akin to the series finale of Six Feet Under, where after you have connected with the characters so much, they are given definitive endings, ones that go beyond the scope of the film’s central story.
After reading this article in the New Yorker, it was interesting to find out that Mills specifically wanted to cast a 14-year-old for the role of Jamie, as he thought by 15 their sexuality would be too actualized.
I found this film to be a huge step up from the prior film, Beginners. Beginners won an academy award. I’m not sure if the cutoff dates made things confusing (somehow it got nominated for original screenplay) or if the notoriety of the competition was just too big before this movie could take off, but it feels weird to me knowing that Beginners, from purely an academy award stance, will likely be more accomplished. That being said, here is an excerpt from that same article in the New Yorker:
He was getting a stream of e-mails from the film’s distributor, A24, about “tastemaker” screenings, to position Annette Bening for a Best Actress nomination. July had told me that she’d reminded Mills “that the Oscars could be seen as a major artistic fail—that being beloved by the really homogeneous, conservative group that votes on them would be bad.” Mills said, “That’s where Miranda’s a savior. I felt dumb that I was falling for the competition.” But a moment later he added, “If we don’t get a nomination now, it is perceived as ‘You’re not worthy of seeing on Friday night.’ ”
I’m left to wonder if he would want an Oscar.