20th Century Women

Front Row at the Movies by Shirrel Rhoades

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Writer-director Mike Mills recalls growing up in a household of women: “In my life, the people who really had an impact on me, who showed me how to be me, were all women.”

He describes his new film — “20th Century Women,” now playing at Tropic Cinema — as a “love letter” to the women who raised him.

Mills says, “Making a movie is so hard, you’d better make movies about something you really know about. And even more, it’s really good to make movies about things you need to figure out for yourself, so you’re driven the whole way through.”

For an earlier film called “Beginners,” he portrayed his gay dad (Christopher Plummer won an Oscar for the role).

For “20th Century Women,” he took inspiration from his mother and sisters to create the characters of Dorethea (Annette Bening) and Abbie (Greta Gerwig). Julie (Elle Fanning) is based on the experiences of one of his friends. Jamie (Lucas Jade Zumann) is, of course, a representation of Mills’s younger self.

Despite the ensemble cast, Bening stands out as the divorced mother, a somewhat flaky free spirit who rents out rooms to a handyman (Billy Crudup) and a punky photographer (Gerwig).

My mom was 40 when she had me in 1966,” Mike Mills reminisces. “She wanted to be a pilot in World War II. She was a draftsperson, and she looked like Amelia Earhart. So I was always describing her that way to people. She did not fit into ‘70s California living, you know?” The film is set in 1979.

Coal under enough compression becomes a diamond. “I was brought up in a matriarchy with a strong mom, two older sisters, and a gay dad who just kind of wasn’t super-present,” says Mills. “I feel like these things I closely observe, that I love and am confused by, are going to give me the best chance to make a poignant, hopefully real film.” A diamond in the rough, that is to say.

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