Tag Archives: California

20th Century Women (2017)

2 Feb

What exactly does it mean to please a women? This is one of many questions Jaime (Lucas Zumann) asks his mother in the sharply-detailed period drama 20th Century Women Jaime, as we first see him, is caught at a bit of a crossroads, and is trying to find his natural place in the world. Growing up solely under the care of his mother Dorothea (Annette Bening) in late 70’s Santa Barbara California, the world is a confusing place. Especially so during adolescence, when punk rock, feminism, drugs, and pregnancy scares become guiding forces in Jaime’s life. “He needs a strong male influence” Dorothea says, “We need another man in this house..” Enter William (Billy Crudup), a friend and occasional lover of Dorothea who works on renovating the house in exchange for free rent. Then there is Julie (Elle Fanning), Jaime’s best friend who sleeps with (but never sleeps with) him some nights and Abbie (Greta Gerwig), the art school tennant who is recovering from cancer. These five characters (and the house they share together, their interactions with American culture and counterculture, and their experiences with love and sexuality) are what make up the backbone for 20th Century Women. 

Written and directed by Mike Mills (Beginners, Thumbsucker), 20th Century Women tells a breezy, patchwork narrative that feels authentically lifted straight from someone’s personal photo album of 40 years. The film is a pure snapshot of American 70’s culture, given to us through our eclectic set of characters – each with their own set of internal and external struggles. Formally, things get slightly experimental at times, fusing documentary footage from various historical events interspersed with dramatic scenes shot at higher or lower framerates or with blaring psychedelic colors. The plot jumps around from moment to moment and character to character so frequently which creates more of a specific aesthetic of time and place than any sort of dramatic tension.  At every opportunity, a different cultural beat is featured – though they are often simply given to us straight from a character’s retrospective voiceover. “We didn’t know that the Reagan era was just around the corner, or that AIDS would soon be a scary word…”  Dorothea explains near the end of the film, over a montage of B-roll news footage. All this culminates to form a nostalgic tribute to the value of shared American cultural experiences.

Bottom Line: When taken as a whole, 20th Century Women might miss the dramatic heights it was aiming for, but the many detailed, smaller moments of this film feel intensely relatable, excitingly alive, and sharply authentic. 

Rating: 7/10

Film Recipe: Boyhood + Diary of a Teenage Girl + A touch of Dazed and Confused

Advertisements

Dope (Sundance 2015)

7 Feb

What do you do if you are a black kid growing up in a black neighborhood (Inglewood CA to be precise) who is into white culture? For Malcom (Shameik Moore),  the protagonist of Sundance Film Festival film Dope, the answer isn’t so easy. Malcom is self-descirbed as a huge 90’s hip hop fan. Him and his two best friends Diggy (Kiersey Clemons) and Jib (Tony Revolri) play in a punk rock band called Oreo. He also gets good grades and wants to go to Harvard after he graduates. One night, a chance encounter at a local drug dealer’s party leads Malcom down a series of crazy adventures as he tries to evade law enforcement and rival dealers.

Dope is a terribly exciting mash-up film of several themes and ideas that dominate today’s pop culture landscape. An envelope pusher for sure, Dope brings all sorts of cultural issues to the forefront including racial bias, party culture, LGBT issues, drug abuse, and the need to stay relevant in an increasingly viral society. The story is told through shifting perspectives that highlight multiple events reminiscent of films like Pulp Fiction or Run Lola Run. Featuring a healthy dose of snappy dialogue, Dope starts off with a bang and builds upon itself until the film’s final act. It’s so tempting to caught up in the rush and energy of this thing, that it’s easy to forget how bad parts of it are. Most of the characters are one-dimensional stereotypes you only see in the worst kind of comedies, and the story jumps around from place to place without much explanation. But there was this inexplicable charm from Dope that kept me intrigued, even as the film tragically falls of the rails during it’s last half (about the point where our main trio sporadically decide to become drug dealers in order to impress a Harvard alumni).

Dope then turns into an atypical R-rated stoner comedy fueled by sugarcoated pop songs by Pharrell Williams, cameos by ASAP Rocky and Zoe Kravitz, and some Morgan Freeman-esc narration by Forest Whitaker. Too ambitious for its own good, the film reaches some major pacing issues during its last half hour and is in desperate need of a skilled editor’s cut. As it stands, Dope is a fun, fast-paced mashup that will be loved by the internet generation, but a possible disappointment for those looking for something more substantial. As a potential mainstream crowdpleaser though, the film sold at an unusually high amount at Sundance to Open Road Films (somewhere around 7 million?), and should have a very healthy theatrical release sometime this summer. Keep your eyes peeled.

Rating: 6/10 

Similar to: Dear White People, Pinapple Express, The Lego Movie