20th Century Women ★★★½

67/100

Quite enjoyed this as the semi-autobiographical collage Mills offers—one in which Beginners' closeted dad never appears, ceding the spotlight to the director's apparently quite remarkable mother. Bening's performance, perhaps necessarily, is more grounded and less galvanizing than was Mary Page Keller's, but you can clearly see that it's the same woman, freed from the chafing that had defined her marriage; even though she's theoretically just one of three distinct and somewhat contradictory feminine influences here, the sense of a loving tribute is unmistakable, culminating in the movie's literally lofty finale. Buried within this sprawling, unfocused reminiscence, however, is the seed of a movie I would have absolutely loved: the story of a progressive middle-aged CA mom, ca. 1979, who becomes unnerved when her teenage son starts moving even further to the left than she is. I mean, that's there, but only as one anecdote among many, briefly asserting itself and then subsiding. And other elements—notably Crudup's pointedly tangential male presence, which is a thing of beauty—never connect with it at all, when they easily could have. In short, I'd have liked to see Mills shape his experiences into something a bit more cohesive and searching, even if doing so would have required "falsifying" his personal history. A very good film, but I was frustrated by glimpses of a great one.

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