Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Films with a Female Perspective: 20th CENTURY WOMEN; WONDER WOMAN


20th CENTURY WOMEN is a film written and Directed by Mike Mills. It is
a kind of autobiographical revelation of Mr Mills' mother. BEGINNERS
(2010), his prior work, starring Ewan McGregor and Christopher
Plummer, was an autobiographical revelation of his relationship with
his father. Both films, says Mr Mills, have an autobiographical origin
but, of course, are in result, works of poetic licence necessitated by
the act of the need to tell a story - cinematizing!

20th CENTURY WOMEN, is set in 1979, in Santa Barbara, California, in a
seminal year of cultural gear-shifting and in a place of the ignition
of a counter-culture revolution.

We watch Dorothea (Annette Bening), born in the twenties, a 55 year
old, divorced woman, with a 15 year old son, Jamie (Lucas Jade
Zumann), in a crisis of confidence and slight despair, realise that
she may never see her son grow into manhood - never know the real man
he will become. Living in a huge old house that is in a state of what
seems to be permanent renovation - metaphor for the human species'
life journey - she takes in flat-mates, with a view to have them
assist her in preparing her son on how to negotiate his future:
William (Billy Crudup), a 'hippie' sculptor, as a male figure
influence, and Abbie (Greta Gerwig), a photographer and 'feminist'
artist, on her own investigation - route - to her own journey, as a
guide to understanding the modern woman. Jamie has a young 'friend',
Julie (Elle Fanning) - tacitly approved of by Dorothea - who expresses
her need for a friend, uncomplicated by sex, and is another unusual
'shaper' of Jamie's emotional understanding of the normal biological
forces urging, needing expression.

20th CENTURY WOMEN has no real plot to hold the film together but
rather has a set of quirky portraits and interactions (and delightful
non-linear form challenges) open-ended and ambiguous that are
tantalising in their 'wobbliness' and fragility. One is engrossed and
on-board with the world of these characters and the storytelling -
delightfully so. It showing that there is some world out there besides
the fake, consumerist, trope-ridden culture, which gives one a few
select roles to live in. It is something that Jamie can embrace as an
evolving human of the late 70's that Dorothea from a heritage of
another cultural perspective, the '30's, even in her 'flaky' curiosity
for assurance that her kid will be alright, cannot quite take on board
without sincere fear and trepidation.

Annette Bening, as Dorothea, is simply brilliant in revealing the
scope of her character's struggle to understand the fate and times of
her son and that of her own continual renovation of information - her
own (daily) metamorphosis on the road to death. Her silences, her
moments of stillness speaking volumes of confrontation. Lucas Jade
Zumann, new to me, as Jamie, maintains an open-eyed wonderment to all
that is happening about him with a dexterous youthfulness and control
- totally believable. Greta Gerwig, with Abbie, adds to her canon of
work, another portrait of womanhood that is curious, urgent and
off-centred, but still powerful and determined. lost but unflaggingly
resourceful in the face of her predicaments - an unconscious
revolutionary, living through the moment-to-moment of her 'adventure'
towards a contented place. Elle Fanning, as Julie, is as lost as
Abbie, but is quietly in pursuit of an alternative way to be a woman
in the evolving social fabric of her world - there has to be another
way, she intuits. Ms Fanning is subtle and sophisticated in wending
her gentle way through the 'hoops' of the character - a performance
well worth watching closely. Interestingly, the most underdeveloped
role of the principal cast is that of William, but Billy Crudup
negotiates it with honesty and a personal physical charm that keeps
William as a wayward focus that provides means of circumstances for
change without really being aware of what he is contributing.

Mike Mills' script was nominated for an Academy Award this year. One
looks forward to his next contribution both as a writer - daring
storyteller - and Director of actors. This is a very fine film with a
unique perspective of the gradual revolution, restoration, of the
female psyche and influence on the world we live in, inspired by his
own mother and sisters. More power to them and him. Highly


What with the 'Art Film' 20th CENTURY WOMEN impressing me so much, I
felt it my 'duty' to see the mainstream WONDER WOMAN as one of its
counterpoints. WONDER WOMAN is the 4th DC Extended Universe film.
This one Directed by a woman, Patty Jenkins (MONSTER- 2003), from a
screenplay by a man, Allan Heinberg (YOUNG AVENGERS), with help from
Zach Snyder and Jason Fuchs.

WONDER WOMAN is a formulaic Comic Strip film. We meet in the present
day Diana Prince (Gal Gadot) who on receiving a photograph of a past
exploit recalls it. So we move to an arresting 'first act' set on the
mythical island Themyscira, the home of the Amazons where we meet,
Queen Hippolyta (Connie Neilsen) and her sister, General Antiope
(Robin Wright) tooing and froing over the if and buts of training the
Princess Diana (Gal Gadot). She is, of course, trained secretly by
Antiope and it is lucky that that has happened because when Captain
Steve Trevor (Chris Pine), crash lands in the sea off the island's
coast and after rescue and recovery tells Diana of the war to end wars
- World War I - that is going on in his time zone, she decides she
must travel with him to confront the Greek God of War, Ares (David
Thewlis), who she believes is the obvious menacing force behind it

Off they go, she under the name of Diana Prince to an even more
intriguing 'second act' set in the London and European war zones,
including vivid and real trenches and factories of poison gas weaponry
being developed by Doctor 'Poison' (Elena Anya) under the direction of
the evil General Erich Ludendorff (Danny Huston), where adventures are
had, heroes are sacrificed and villains are killed so that a tiresome
but necessary 'third act' of a cataclysmic show down between Diana and
Ares ensues; Crash, Kaboom etc etc etc - too long, I reckon.

The acting is breezy and confident, stuffed full with unfussy cliches.
Gal Gadot as Diana is spectacularly beautiful and if a little 'raw' in
the acting stakes - injured voice and a 'thrusting' head for textual
emphasis - carries it off well enough for us to further invest in
Wonder Woman when the physical action takes off, which occurs often
enough - she is amazing. The chemistry between her and Chris Pine is
amusing and sentimental enough for us to absorb and want to believe
in, whilst the comedy of Lucy Davis, as Chris Pine's character's
devoted assistant, Etty Candy, with contribution by the story's 'three
musketeers' played by Said Taghmaoui, Ewen Brenner and Eugene Brave
Rock, is deliciously balanced by the villainy of Danny Huston -
playing a character that is a red-herring to the revelations of the
screenplay - and Elena Anya, and ultimately, David Thewlis.

Director, Patty Jenkins manages it all with a subtle detail for
contemporary feminist politics with the bravura of the formula of the
genre. I was especially impressed with the World War I Production
Design from Aline Bonetto and Supervising Art Director, Dominic Hyman.
It looked so much more believable than the work I saw in the recent

I enjoyed myself for most of it. But what I have to report is the
experience that this film has given many of my women friends - across
a wide age range - who found themselves crying, spontaneously
reacting, during the film and, even, afterwards on the footpath at the
overwhelming JOY of seeing their sex represented so well by Diana
Prince - WONDER WOMAN. It is this cultural catharsis that I note and
believe is part of a wave of seeing a representation of women on
screen that is powerful and central. At last.

So WONDER WOMAN is a go see, no matter the obvious formula. It is
better than the norm of this genre.

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