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Film / 20th Century Women

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20th Century Women is a 2016 Coming of Age Story film written and directed by Mike Mills.

Set in 1979, the film centers on a group of five characters living in a Santa Barbara, California boarding house:

  • Dorothea (Annette Bening), the boarding house's proprietor and a single mother;
  • Jamie (Lucas Jade Zumann), Dorothea's teenage son who's struggling with adolescence;
  • Julie (Elle Fanning), Jamie's childhood friend and object of his affection;
  • Abbie (Greta Gerwig), an artist dealing with a recent cervical cancer diagnosis;
  • William (Billy Crudup), a handy man who helps maintain the boarding house.

20th Century Women contains examples of:

  • The Alleged Car: The film opens with Dorothea's very old car spontaneously combusting. Dorothea speaks fondly of it despite Jamie saying it had been showing signs of its age for a while.
  • Bittersweet Ending: While the main characters are still shown as supportive and caring towards one another, they all eventually drift away from one another save Jamie and Dorothea, while the latter dies 20 years later.
  • Childhood Friends: Jamie and Julie have been friends since their early youth.
  • Cool Big Sis: This seems to be how Jamie views Abbie, most notably in the enthusiasm with which he takes up feminist literature after she recommends it to him.
  • Disappeared Dad: Jamie's father skipped out on him and Dorothea, and he never got to know him.
  • The Generation Gap: Dorothea, who was born just before the Great Depression and came of age during WWII, has a hard time understanding her son, Julie and Abbie, who are Baby Boomers. So conflicts arise when she requests Julie and Abbie's help in raising Jamie, who all find the whole arrangement weird and credit it to Dorothea being from the Great Depression.
  • The Great Depression: Dorothea grew up during the Depression.
  • Handy Man: William is skilled with his hands and helps with repairs and renovations around the boarding house.
  • I Coulda Been a Contender!: Dorothea trained to be a fighter pilot in World War II, but the war ended before she could begin service.
  • Like Brother and Sister: How Julie seems to view Jamie, explicitly telling him on multiple occasions that she can't date or have sex with him because she's too emotionally close to him. Jamie is notably frustrated by this.
  • Millennium Bug: Dorothea describes in narration how in 1999 she will be preparing for the potential disaster brought on by Y2K. However she dies from cancer before reaching 2000.
  • New-Age Retro Hippie: William spent a fair amount of the Sixties in a hippie commune, and it shows.
  • Oh, and X Dies/Posthumous Narration: Dorothea tells the audience she'll die of lung cancer in 1999.
  • Parental Abandonment: inverted, Julie seems to spend as little time as possible with her actual blood family, sneaking over to sleep in Jamie's bed every night.
  • Period Piece: Set at the tail-end of The '70s leading into The '80s.
  • Punk Rock: Jamie and Abbie are interested in this genre of music. Via narration, Dorothea points out that the punk movement —in its purest form— is dying out by 1979.
  • Relationship Upgrade: Jamie is romantically interested in Julie. His feelings aren't reciprocated.
  • Really Gets Around: Julie is pretty much sleeping with every guy Jamie knows but Jamie, to his chagrin.
  • Sibling Yin-Yang: With director Mike Mills's previous film Beginners. While both focus on the impact of a parent on a child, Beginners is about a father's impact on his grown-up son, while Women is about a mother's impact on her teenage son.
  • Starving Artist: Abbie is a photographer and one of her first lines is telling Dorothea she will be late on rent.
  • Stock Footage: Shown at various points in the film, most notably during Dorothea's narrated monologue about her death just before New Year's Day 2000.
  • Switching P.O.V.: The film doesn't really focus on any one of the five primary characters, and they're all given POV narrations at different points throughout.
  • Title In: "Santa Monica 1979"
  • The Topic of Cancer: Abbie is diagnosed with cervical cancer because her mother took a drug meant to promote fertility.
  • True Companions: Jamie, Julie, Dorothea, Abbie, and William become a sort of surrogate family for one another over the course of the film. Although by a few years after the film ends they have drifted apart
  • "Where Are They Now?" Epilogue: Each of the primary characters tell the audience what happens to them after the film's end, via narration:
    • Dorothea finds a new boyfriend in 1983 and dates him until she dies of lung cancer in 1999.
    • Julie moves to New York City for college, stops speaking to her mother, and loses contact with The Fieldses.
    • Abbie marries and has two children with her husband, despite the cervical cancer.
    • Jamie has a son of his own, after Dorothea's death.
    • William lives with Dorothea for another year before moving to Sedona, Arizona, and is briefly married.
  • Unlucky Childhood Friend: Jamie's feelings for Julie are unrequited, and as shown in the epilogue, the two eventually drift apart and marry different people.