Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Best of 2016, #2: 20th Century Women

The Problem: None!

For those of you who haven’t seen it: Annette Benning plays a single mom in 1979 with two boarders in her rotting California home, trying to raise her teenage son. It’s a crime she didn’t get an Oscar nomination.  (And neither did Amy Adams!  All so that Meryl could get her 50th nomination??)

What I Loved About It: Everything! It was such a relief to get this bracing blast of real life after all the grim brutality offered up by so many of the other movies. It turns out that life is a pretty interesting topic. This movie felt like it could have been made by Eric Rohmer, which is about the highest compliment I know how to pay.

Rulebook Casefile:
  • Find Unique But Universal Details: I had never heard of the pass-out game they play (that almost kills the son), but it seemed so real to my experience of adolescence, so I readily accepted it.
  • Find the Internecine Conflicts: Looking back on punk, and looking at what it means in retrospect, it would be tempting to show them clashing with preppies all the time, but as an actual punk in 1979, you were far more likely to get caught up in clashes between art punks and hardcore punks. It is our internecine conflicts that dominate our waking hours, not our larger societal roles.
  • Impose a Dramatic Question: This movie’s great strength is that it’s a free-ranging slice of life, but you still have to impose a bit of structure in order to make it feel like a coherent story. In this movie, at around the 20 minutes mark, Annette Benning asks the two women in her son’s life to help raise him. Then, near the end, she tells them to cool it. That’s all the structure you need, and Mills hangs his whole sprawling loosey-goosey movie on that rickety frame, which works just fine.

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