Patchily lovely and overlong.
The semi-autobiographical 20th Century Women is clearly a very personal story for writer/director Mike Mills, with all the intimacy and awkwardness (at least some of it seemingly unintentional) that that can entail. There are moments both poignant and sock-puppety – and the former are mostly special enough to forgive the latter.
Personally, I became more interested in seeing the women in young Jamie’s life through my own eyes than only ever through his. For a film with more female than male leads, it somehow manages to not pass the Bechdel test: every conversation between the named female characters is, at least to begin with, about Jamie (Lucas Jade Zumann). And they are interesting enough in their own right: there is so much going on in Annette Bening‘s portrayal of his iconoclastic mother; Greta Gerwig‘s Abbie is more wonderfully multi-faceted when she isn’t literally explaining herself; even the ever-radiant Elle Fanning seems to have less and less to thread together as the film meanders along.
Emblematic of the film overall, Sean Porter‘s camera veers between the sublime and the student workshop: it often finds lovely portraiture, framing compelling performances, but just as often meanders distractingly, with awkward lighting, making the same performers look like amateur theatre. Perhaps another pass at editing was needed?