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Film Critic: '20th Century Women' Has Universal Significance, No Matter Your Age

20th Century Women/A24 films
Annette Bening and Lucas Jade Zumann star as the mother and son duo trying to navigate their lives and relationship in "20th Century Women."

The film 20th Century Women is set in 1979, a time of disco, new wave feminism and punk. It’s a boy’s coming of age story, told through five characters, ranging in age from 15 to 55, all living under one roof.

"The Hollywood version of this film would have been bright and shiny and glossy and somewhat false. It might have gotten some things right, but it wouldn't have had the texture of reality that this movie has," says film contributor and arts and entertainment editor for the Shepherd Express, Dave Luhrssen.

20th Century Women was nominated for best picture in the Golden Globes and Annette Benning received a best actress nomination for a musical or comedy. But it didn’t win either award, and didn’t make the nominee list in any category for the upcoming Academy awards. However, that shouldn't deter audiences from seeing this film, according to Luhrssen.

"My hope is that the movie has more universal significance," he notes. "It isn't just a movie that would appeal to people who were born between 1959 and 1965, but that people can see beyond that and the issues and the subjects raised by the film."

Written and directed by independent filmmaker Mike Mills, 20th Century Women steps outside of the normal template - with incredible detail to the time period and without creating a format that is incomprehensible or difficult to follow, Luhrssen explains.

He says Annette Bening, Billy Crudup, Greta Gerwig, Elle Fanning and Lucas Jade Zumann deliver "flawless performances" as a hybrid family navigating what it means to love, be free, be an adult and be a woman.

"One of the many things this movie does well is taking a look at the transition from traditional women's roles in American society into other things, the growing influence of feminist ideas," Luhrssen says. "I think the movie speaks to people who were not around at that point."

He also notes that this movie will no doubt appeal to the people who experienced their own coming of age during the same period. "I really enjoyed it a great deal," Luhrssen says. "I feel a kind of personal connection to this movie because it is [my coming of age story]."

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Audrey is a producer, host and reporter for Lake Effect. She is involved with every aspect of the show — from conducting interviews, editing audio, posting web stories and mixing the show together.
David Luhrssen is arts and entertainment editor of the Shepherd Express, co-founder of the Milwaukee International Film Festival and co-author of A Time of Paradox: America Since 1890. He is the winner of the Pace Setter Award for contributions to Milwaukee's film community from the Milwaukee Independent Film Society. David Luhrssen has taught at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, the Milwaukee Institute of Art & Design and Milwaukee Area Technical College.