20th Century Women

Director: Mike Mills (2017) BBFC cert: 15

My heart sank when I read this drama described as a ‘poignant love letter to the people who raise us’. But it’s even more insuffrable and indulgent than I feared.

Set against the US energy crisis of 1979, this is a mawkishly nostalgic  semi-autobiographical riff on the teenage life of writer/director, Mike Mills.

The charm of Annette Bening alone isn’t enough to enertain us. She stars as bohemian single mum, Dorothea, who lives in a dilapidated mansion.It is strewn with the director’s favourite records, books and clothes of the era.

She rents spare rooms to a hippie handyman and a forthright photographer, while inviting complete strangers to her frequent parties. Meanwhile her son Jamie has an unrequited crush on sulky girl next door, Julie.

Greta Gerwig, Elle Fanning, Lucas Jade Zumann and Billy Crudup play the unlikely cohabitees. Indulgent and under plotted, it feels like an actors workshop.

Everyone spends their time over analysing each other’s behaviour and fertility and feminism are much discussed. Little else happens and most of what does occur is dull.

@ChrisHunneysett

 

 

Maggie’s Plan

Director: Rebecca Miller (2016) BBFC cert. 15

The best laid plans of Greta Gerwig go awry in this New York comedy of manners.

As Maggie she is forever interfering in the lives of others and must learn restraint in order to find her own happiness.

She’s a sensible shoe wearing singleton who is ready to have a kid but lacks a boyfriend. Her scheme to inseminate herself via a sperm donor is interrupted by the appearance of John, a hunky academic.

This doesn’t endear Maggie to his wife Georgette and their kids. Ethan Hawke and Julianne Moore enjoy themselves as the feckless, self pitying, dishonest man child and his ferociously poised Danish wife.

The script gives John the anthropologist a forensic examination and finds the behaviour of this modern man severely wanting. But it also has the heart to allow the him at least a small measure of self respect.

Bill Hader and Maya Rudolph offer Maggie an alternative view of life as home truth dispensing best friends and Travis Fimmel is sweet as a lyrical pickle entrepreneur.

As a director Miller is in love with the city and it’s full of therapy, hipster beards, wooly hats, street entertainers, health food, ice skating and outdoor markets, but keeps its quirky mannerisms to a thankful minimum.

And her script obeys the rules of a romcom while functioning as a commentary on our atomised society, one which is indifferent to reducing conception to a mechanical process involving a syringe and a smart phone app.

Maggie’s Plan plays as an updated version of Jane Austen’s Emma filtered through Woody Allen, and is an honest, sharp and very funny look at modern life.

@ChrisHunneysett