Cole Klima’s review published on Letterboxd:
Understanding. It's what drives us much of the time. We strive to understand ourselves, our role, the world around us, love. "20th Century Women" highlights these struggles, and looks at a small group of people during a time of radical cultural change in the world. The ineractions of these people revolve around the development of Lucas Jade Zumann's Jamie, a 15 year old unsure of love and life.Annette Bening's character highlights the changing society, seemingly becoming out of touch with society, her son and her entire life, living on for others, but not for herself, with Bening capturing someone who is pleasant and decent, but at heart, is ultimately troubled quite brilliantly. Greta Gerwig's Abbie epitomizes the society of 1979 and its social changes through her outspoken mindset and openness. It is quite fascinating to see the way Gerwig and Bening's characters interact in regards to Jamie, showing the influence of completely different perspectives on the world on someone slowly being introduced to what it has to offer. Elle Fanning's Julie is added into the mix as well, ultimately showing the struggle of love for Jamie.
As Jamie develops and is introduced to the world around him through these women, we see the women change as a result, gaining new perspective on the world through it. The film is quite fascinating in its portrayal of the universal struggles of love and life. Other films have attempted to execute the raw humanity that this exhibits, but this feels much more grounded in its characters, and looks towards the idea of acceptance for who we are despite the flaws we have. It's tragic in its own way, but it allows us to see some of the tragedy of humans in a normal, every day way. It's tragic what we can do to ourselves and how the world and what happens in it shape us. This film acts as the mirror to look at ourselves and learn to accept.
Each of the three lead actresses are brilliant, capturing the characters they portray wonderfully as flawed, broken people in some way. Zumann brings together a solid performance of a teenager discovering the conflicts of life and society, with Billy Crudup rounding out the cast with his fun and likable performance.
"20th Century Women" is a splendid film. It allows us to look at ourselves, and the way we bend to society and to those around us. It's fascinating and eye-opening to see where the world leads us when we let it move us.