20th Century Women (2016) Movie Review

By: Alex Phuong (Two Beers) –

Movies that have strong female characters have been around since the inception of cinema. Famous roles of independent women include when Vivien Leigh played Scarlett O’Hara in Gone with the Wind to when Disney produced the animated version of Mulan almost sixty years later. Films that have women at the center have been a recent trend in twenty-first century cinema as well, and examples include The Hours (2002) and Blue Jasmine (2013).  20th Century Women is a unique film because even though it involves women within that particular century, it still explores fundamental themes within the human experience. Therefore, I would give this film two beers because of its profound examination of what it means to be a person regardless of a person’s gender.

A Toast

The film has a really amazing screenplay. This original screenplay has just received an Oscar nomination because it deals with not just women, but the overall identities that make people who they truly are. The three main female stars in this film are Annette Bening, Elle Fanning, and Greta Gerwig. Their characters all help Bening’s on-screen son, Jamie, deal with “becoming a man,” and Lucas Jade Zumann does a fantastic job playing a fifteen-year-old transitioning to adulthood. I like the fact that the son is named “Jamie” because it is actually a gender-neutral name, which implies from the start that he has a connection to the other women in the film even though he is a boy. This film also reveals the universal truths that all people go through regardless of their gender, such as growing up and accepting reality. The film does take place primarily in the twentieth-century, especially in the year 1979 in Santa Barbara, but the script reveals how all people are fundamentally the same even though differing characteristics might attempt to separate and define them.

Beer Two

I have mixed feelings about Annette Bening’s performance. She was good enough in order to receive a Golden Globe nomination, yet she failed to receive an Oscar nomination. She actually had much better roles in other films like American Beauty and The Kids Are All Right. Another issue is that she has played a mother in several films already, which means that this particular role is somewhat repetitive. I honestly believe that Bening could have done better with making Dorothea a more well-rounded character instead of playing her as just a mom in 1979.

Also, the film contains way too much smoking. I honestly do not know if that was done for historical accuracy of 1970s culture, or if that was just how those characters behaved. The film exhibits multiple types of dangerous behavior multiple times throughout the film, but I cannot go into further detail about those instances since they might contain spoilers. It just felt inappropriate watching all of the characters engage in risky and risqué behavior throughout the film.


20th Century Women is a great film for feminists. It also provides a mini-history lesson about the shifting roles that women were experiencing after the radical and psychedelic 1960s. I think that the title is appropriate for this film because it does deal primarily with women, and the struggles that women at that time were facing. It is all thanks to the incredible screenplay that Mike Mills wrote, who also directed this picture.

20th Century Women (2016) Drinking Game

Take a Drink: whenever retro music plays in the background

Take a Drink: whenever black-and-white images and film clips appear on-screen

Drink a Shot: any time that the characters use terms related to gender, such as “man/men” and “woman/women.”

About Alex Phuong

Alex Andy Phuong earned his Bachelor of Arts in English from California State University-Los Angeles in 2015. His love affair with cinema began after discovering Turner Classic Movies in the summer of 2004. His favorite film director is Woody Allen, and his favorite movie star is Kate Winslet.

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