Rated R for content. (That seems a bit redundant.) There's a lot of talk about sexuality in the movie, but there is some actual graphic sexuality in the movie. I don't remember any nudity, but it does seem kind of sexual throughout. There's also some graphic language, drinking, and drug use. It's people who make choices and some of those might not gel with "nice". R.
DIRECTOR: Mike Mills
Okay, it's a bummer that my favorite viewing of 2020 might have been a movie from 2016. It's New Years Eve and my kids are screaming to play family Mario Kart. I don't really want to play because my joy con has a pretty bad drift to it. But they're distracted by candy right now, so I write against time and pressure to get a blog out for today. I can't promise it is going to happen. If it happens, it happens.
My big question about art involves morals. Is every piece of art its own morality play? If so, I would probably want to distance my love for this movie. I know that I tend to devolve each blog into a commentary about the morality of the film. But 20th Century Women got me from the perspective of people not necessarily having the right answers. There are a handful of women in one house and two dudes and they all think that they are right about things. They all have different perspectives, despite the fact that they are copasetic. But they are all flawed human beings who are trying the best that they can with what they have. And as much as I plan to distance myself from the morality of the piece, the film is about making Jamie a good person. Yeah, it's this abstract idea that each of them is really fighting for, but it is something that is a noble goal.
It's smart to stick this in the gender politics of 1979. I'm sure that whoever is writing the film is making the story semi-autobiographical. It would be hard to stick this story in the 2010s because the movie does focus on the generation conflicts between the children of the depression and Gen Xers. But there also is the fact that this is a world that is focused on the idea that a male needs a positive male role model. Part of me absolutely adores that the women of the house don't view William as a positive male role model. His character is imbued with elements of traditional masculinity. The guy works with his hands and builds cars for a hobby. That's pretty masculine. (I maintain a blog and write about art. Yeah, I'm impressed.) But William is so far away from being ready to be archetypal male role model that he's not really involved in the raising of Jamie. Actually, I don't quite know what William's role is in terms of the family dynamic. He's the closest thing to an outsider in the story, despite the fact that he is in every scene.
Instead, we have Dorothea's flawed attempt to have three strong women raise him. Within the title of the movie stresses the word Women. There are times when Dorothea's idea seems brilliant. Jamie, through the intervention of Abbie, becomes this self-actualized kid. He becomes a teenage feminist. Yeah, he might focus a bit too much on sexuality (and there's me proselytizing again), but he seems to view the women in his house through the lens of the oppressed. Rather than simply fall into the traps of masculinity, Jamie is educated and tries improving himself. It's because of Abbie's active role in Jamie's relationship that creates sympathy between the audience and the triangle of Jamie, Dorothea, and Abbie herself. Jamie is actively learning about things that people go their entire lives without knowing, but he's also treating it in an abstract and theoretical way. Abbie is pushy with her own politics because she knows that she has to be. And Dorothea is seeing her kid talk about sex all the time at 16.
Dorothea understands that Jamie is growing and that he should be growing. But she also misses being the central figure in Jamie's life. From a personal perspective, I get this. I get this movie too much. My dad died when I was young and my mom raised me for a little bit. I often wonder if my personality traits align with women because of this time with my mom. But I also saw the same thing that Jamie went through in my life. I found myself hold my mother in contempt for things that weren't really her fault because there was no right answer to the problem. I am worried about raising teenagers of my own, but I can't even fathom having to do that as a single parent. To think that gender doesn't play a role in that relationship is potentially pretty dangerous.
But it doesn't make Dorothea a bad parent. Because she is having a group of women raise her kid, it probably shows her absolute love for him. She's this soul who doesn't have the answers. There's something about aging that creates a disparity between who you are and who you are supposed to be. Dorothea is this person who wants happiness and normality, but also wants to put up this front of parenthood. She sees what the good out there is and she also wants to maintain that bond that she has with her son. It's actually because they are so close that the tension between the two escalates and escalates. It's such a sympathetic characteristic.
I, too, get mad at Julie. (But again, I love all of the characters so much. Getting mad at her is something that brings her into focus for me.) Jamie almost represents the paradoxical confidence and complete ignorance of adolescence. She keeps seeming like she has all of the answers in front of Jamie. She sees that he is absolutely infatuated with her, but she keeps doing what she does. She loves Jamie, but never wants that dynamic to change. She holds all this power and yet is completely helpless in every other element of her life. When Abbie accuses her, drunkenly, about being unfair, I don't think I ever thought that a messed up character hit the nail on the head with a character choice. Yeah, Julie has a terrible life. I don't blame her for hating her mother. But she has all this misplaced sexuality and Jamie is hurting because of it.
GAH! I love these characters!
Anyway, this movie rocked my socks. There were moments where I just sat back and wondered why I loved this movie so much. Again, the attitudes for parenting were rough. There's a lot of stuff that I would never do in my worst reality. But Talking Heads and punk won out. This was a movie about people. People aren't perfect. They try their best and they work with what they know. That's what this movie was about. I adored it. Absolutely adored it. I may not know what the best movie of 2020 was, but I do know that 20th Century Women might have been the best thing I saw this year.
Film is great. It can challenge us. It can entertain us. It can puzzle us. It can awaken us.
Mr. H has watched an upsetting amount of movies. They bring him a level of joy that few things have achieved.