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20th Century Women | Annette Bening shines as an unorthodox single mother in late-70s California

20th Century Women Annette Bening, Elle Fanning, Greta Gerwig

20th Century Women Annette Bening, Elle Fanning, Greta Gerwig

Writer-director Mike Mills’ tender 2010 comedy-drama Beginners (opens in new tab) took inspiration from his father’s decision to come out as gay at the age of 75. For 20th Century Women, the spur is his mother.

A reimagining of Mills’ teenage years in late-1970s California, the film centres on a bohemian, slightly ramshackle household in Santa Barbara where 55-year-old divorcee Dorothea (Annette Bening) is raising her son Jamie (Lucas Jade Zumann) with help from her lodger, 24-year-old photographer Abbie (Greta Gerwig), and from Jamie’s free-spirited, sexually active young friend Julie (Elle Fanning).

Amid an array of strong female performances, the Oscar-nominated Bening holds her own as the lonely but resilient Dorothea, an older mom sometimes baffled by her adolescent son but always open hearted and open-minded. However, this sometimes funny, always charming film isn’t just a portrait of a fascinating woman but of an era, too, capturing the final flourishing of hippie idealism and punk-rock radicalism on the cusp of the materialistic Reaganite 1980s.

Certificate 15. Runtime 114 mins. Director Mike Mills

20th Century Women available on DVD & Digital Download from Entertainment One.


A film critic for over 25 years, Jason admits the job can occasionally be glamorous – sitting on a film festival jury in Portugal; hanging out with Baz Luhrmann at the Chateau Marmont; chatting with Sigourney Weaver about The Archers – but he mostly spends his time in darkened rooms watching films. He’s also written theatre and opera reviews, two guide books on Rome, and competed in a race for Yachting World, whose great wheeze it was to send a seasick film critic to write about his time on the ocean waves. But Jason is happiest on dry land with a classic screwball comedy or Hitchcock thriller.