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20th Century Women (Blu-ray Review)

20th Century Women comes from writer/director Mike Mills of whom I only familiar with his film Thumbsucker, which was one of the first films that was highly recommended to me by Scott Mendelson early on in our friendship.  It was a terrific coming of age comedy, the best of what seemed to have a lot of similar ones like it back in 2005, and one of the best films that year.  This film, featuring a single mother tasking two younger women with helping to shape her 15 year old son’s adolescence, is my first venture with Mills since.  I highly enjoyed the trailer when I saw it back during December (Actually had me cracking up aloud at a few moments), but wasn’t able to get to it during its theatrical run.  It looked like another big awards run movie for Annette Bening, but the film wound up only getting nominated for Best Original Screenplay.  The film very much offers far more than its lack of award season nods would lead you to believe.  20th Century Women will be available to purchase on (21st century, yok yok) Blu-ray March 28th.

Film 

Set in 1979 Santa Barbara, 20th Century Women follows Dorothea, a determined single mother in her mid-50s who is raising her adolescent son, Jamie, at a time brimming with cultural change. When Dorothea enlists the help of two younger women — Abbie, a punk artist boarding in Fields’s home; and Julie, savvy teenage neighbor. Along with William, a bohemian handyman who rooms in Dorothea’s house, they form a makeshift family forms that inspires them for the rest of their lives.

20th Century Women is a fantastic coming of age story for not just one young man, but for 3 women at different stages in their lives as well.  Its the perfect storm of every aspect of a film coming together very harmoniously; script, direction, performance, cinematography, production design.  While I was expecting a pretty good film going in, I didn’t expect this was one that I was going to fall pretty hard for within just minutes of it starting.  The film is a rare instance where I truly felt I had enough to connect with or sympathize with every character in the film that we follow in this time period.

Annette Bening once again is quite terrific in the film (No surprise).  While yes, this is one of those “gunning for an award” type of role, its only because its that on paper, Bening makes it very full and natural.  Elle Fanning continues to grow with interesting roles and is a constantly improving performer.  Greta Gerwig is the one that seemed to steal this film every time she was on screen for me.  Maybe its because I find her so damn fascinating in everything she does, but her presence is so underrated still to this day.  She comes across as incredibly real and human.  Abbie is a fun character that takes a hell of a journey throughout the film and luckily doesn’t play as this “type” tends to when presented on film.  And I don’t want to take away from Lucas Jade Zumann who manages to hold his own with three elite actresses in very very difficult scenes.

One thing that could come and go and one may not have thought at thing about it in this movie, is its cinematography.  Its incredible, yet kind of understated.  There is some really strong production design going on in the film and it manages to capture all of it so naturally, yet not missing a hint of its color or beauty.  There are some cool things done with driving sequences going on as well .  Framing and movements here are well thought out and quite gorgeous, balanced and pleasing without be forceful or distracting.  Ultimately, this beautiful, incredibly well shot photography winds up looking quite effortless when honestly, it probably wasn’t at all in the way it was crafted to be.

20th Century Women is a fantastic journey in the life of 5 individuals who are basically living together (One doesn’t but spends the night frequently).  While given to us in a slightly pretentious, old-hat arthouse narrative with its narration, its very fine and used to heightened and good effect.  The film is performed tremendously and features a group of characters you’ll really feel for, even Billy Crudup’s kinda “just there” and underutilized (Or utilized perfectly) “William”.  There are laughs, cries, anger and learning experiences all over and its quite a wonderful trip through all of that.  Had I seen this prior to my end of the year top 10 list, 20th Century Women probably would have made a compelling argument for a spot on it.

Video 

Encoding: MPEG-4 AVC

Resolution: 1080p

Aspect Ratio: 2.00:1

Layers: BD-50

Clarity/Detail:  20th Century Women has an impressive, crisp, sharp and very detailed, colorful image in its Blu-ray debut.  The appearance of this film very much had the look of a Netflix original being displayed in 4K.  Not quite THAT high of a resolution, but much better than their HD output.  Its got a very natural feel, but still feels pretty artful and cinematic.  Details run very high, and Dorthea’s constantly being remodeled home features plenty of impressive details that even are picked up in distant and background shots.  Hair follicles are also really impressive here, catching every strand or frizzled hair.  The film itself is beautiful to look at and this Blu-ray transfer does not let it down.

Depth:  Depth is very above average here.  Characters movie comfortably, naturally and look very separate from backdrops with no blur or jitter present at all.  Camera movements find some good 3 dimensional work displaying the freedom of objects/characters and backgrounds from one another.

Black Levels:  Blacks show a little lighter at their darkest, with that light kind of gray appearance to them, but its looks very fine and distinct.  No details lost here, really as stuff like Billy Crudup’s and mustache really shower the details in follicles.  No crushing at all.

Color Reproduction: Colors are very beautiful in this transfer.  The production design here is gorgeously represented.  Yellows are a real treat, showing up on some cabinets in the kitchen and really taking off every time they hit the screen.  This also includes the blonde of Elle Fanning’s hair which shows up quite marvelously here.  Greta Gerwig’s hair is a treat, with so many different tints and such in here very detailed follicles showing.  Some of her outfits (Including a purple skirt) really lift off.

Flesh Tones: Skin tones are natural and maintain a consistent appearance throughout the duration of the film.  Close ups and medium shots are impressive in revealing wrinkles, cracks, moles, freckles, red blemishes, lip texture, make-up lines and more.

Noise/Artifacts: Clean

Audio 

Audio Format(s): English 5.1 DTS-HD MA

Subtitles: English SDH, Spanish

Dynamics: 20th Century Women is a film that doesn’t ask much from the audio track in general, but lovely displays everything is has to do.  Particularly the music is mixed in here quite lovely and feels a real soothing presence, whether its Talking Heads or Black Flag.  Dialogue, music and effects are all woven in here quite nicely, with none of them getting in the way of one of the other.  Voice overs and music bumping up are done really well and this mix really commands attention at all stops, even though this is very much a drama with focus being on dialogue and no action beats.

Height: N/A

Low Frequency Extension:  Mostly the subwoofer is used to enhance the music feature in the film.  Maybe a car door or a home door closing hard gets a bit of a bump.  Some of Billy Crudup’s construction work that is front and center in a scene will get a little if necessary too.

Surround Sound Presentation:  This really isn’t a movie that needs to go crazy in terms of a 360 degree experience, but it doesn’t overdo it and keeps things natural and to the movie.  Yes, the mix is front-heavy, and rightfully so.  Scenes with loud clubs/concerts provide some good rear action and there are some solid ambient contributions.  Movements in the front speakers are accurately as well as the placement of characters.

Dialogue Reproduction: The most important aspect of this mix is beautifully handled.  Vocals are crisp and clear. Voiceovers have a volume at just the very hair minimal increment of volume higher to show a distance.  Said voiceovers have great nuances and catch every piece of diction wonderfully.

Extras 

20th Century Women comes with an UltraViolet digital copy of the film.

Audio Commentary

  • With Director Mike Mills

Making 20th Century Women (HD, 9:31) – Director Mike Mills, Annette Benning, Greta Gerwig, Elle Fanning and Lucas Jade Zumann as well as costume and production designers, the cinematographer and other pertinent crew discuss the times and character portrayed in the film, what they mean to each personally and how they all brought it to life.  This feels specifically shot for this release and isn’t some sort of EPK kind of fluff.  Just more professionaly put together.  Also features on set footage.

20th Century Cast (HD, 10:49) – Mike Mills goes over each cast member and talks about where the character was on paper and then what each individual added to and bettered the role.  Other cast members chime in to discuss the craft that a cast member would bring to the table to help improve their own performances.  Said performer talks their role as well.  It could be confused with the normal fluff and pat everyone on the back interview session, but its far more informative and introspective on the craft of acting than that.

Trailers (HD, 11:35) – Moonlight, La La Land, American Honey, The Lobster, Morris From America

Summary 

20th Century Women is a fantastic tale of character and display of great performances in a very unique set of different coming of age stories altogether as one.  There are a lot of good dramatics, laughs photography and production design on display.  This Blu-ray features a fantastic picture quality to go along with some superior audio.  Extras that come with it are pretty solid as well.  I frankly really loved this movie, so its a definite recommend to purchase from me, but at the very least rent the film.

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Writer/Reviewer, lifelong obsessive film nerd. As eager to educate in the world of film as I am to learn. An avid lover of horror, schlock and trash, Brandon hosts the Cult Cinema Cavalcade podcast on the Creative Zombie Studios Network (www.cultcinemacavalcade.com) You can also find more essays on his blog Naptown Nerd (naptownnerd.blogspot.com).

1 Response to “20th Century Women (Blu-ray Review)”


  1. Aaron Neuwirth

    If you’re a fan of Mills, I heartily recommend Beginners.