Kurdt’s review published on Letterboxd:
Coming of age films usually follow a teenager uncovering the hidden wonders of the world, discovering who they are amidst a haze of rebellion and ephemeral nights of euphoric bliss. 20th Century Women is ostensibly of the same genre, but it feels too honest to label, too brilliant to package within such limits. Discovering who we are, at 18, through seize-the-day naivety is chimeric. This film proposes instead that we never truly discover who we are, we’re forever left to chase ourselves. We’re shaped by the people in our lives, and we better just hope those people lead us down long winding roads instead of dead ends. We’ve just got to hope we get our lives somewhat right, embrace things we’re passionate about and hope they lead to even a minuscule of happiness. The beauty of this film is how it’s so communal, so full of shared emotions, this palpable coalescing of kindness and pain with characters at totally disparate forks in the road in their lives but forming a makeshift family; strength in numbers. And it’s a wonderful look at parenting, what a toll it takes, and just how even existing as an adult is a kind of shot in the dark.
When I was young I never really saw my parents as real people. They’re just mum and dad, you don’t think of them as fully formed humans that have the same emotions you do. I always thought that there’d be a certain point, like a dirty lightbulb suddenly illuminated, when that jump from adolescence to adult became clear and suddenly everything fell into place. Mum couldn’t be depressed, dad couldn’t really be angry. They’re parents! As I got older, I realised that’s not the case - duh - parents aren’t these omniscient beings who understand everything like you once thought, and more importantly, they aren’t solely defined by their kids. What 20th Century Women does so well is paint Dorothea as a real person separate from Jamie. She’s not just a parent, she’s not just his mother. It’s something that I don’t think many films do, or at least do well; paint mothers as independent creatures who despite having clear care and joy for their children still want to be happy, still want to enjoy life, still want to feel head-over-their-heels love like they did when they were 18. Life doesn’t just stop at a certain age, and things don’t start meaning less than they used to.
A reason David Foster Wallace was incredibly depressed before he released Infinite Jest was the fact that he thought he’d ‘missed his window’ to succeed once he left his mid-20s. There does seem to be this societal obligation to ‘live life’ until a certain point, before getting serious and settling in, seemingly never to feel again. This is bullshit, and Mike Mills now understands this. You have to think this is the film he’s been working towards despite a relatively short career, the coalescing of all these things he’s learnt from wonderful people, the ability to open his heart and mind and paint a souring ode to his mother and the people that shaped who he is today. Ambition and a desire to love and be surrounded by happiness never dies, it doesn’t have an expiration date and there’s no rush to ‘succeed’ by a certain date. I feel a weird kind of false nostalgia for this film, for a time period I never existed in, for a place I’ve never been, but I’ve found that’s usually a fantastic sign, personally, that I cherish a film and will carry it with me.
The ending destroyed me, a spellbinding flood of emotion but delivered with subtlety, like a weirdly familiar yet intangible dream, Six Feet Under-esque in its projection of what life will be. Imagine what you’ll do, imagine what you’ll be, imagine everything wonderful you’re still yet to lay eyes on, but in the meantime, take the time to hold on to what will get you there in the first place.
“Whatever you think your life is going to be like, just know, it's not gonna be anything like that.”