Mike Mills' latest outing is a heartfelt nod to the writer and director's memories of growing up in 1970s California, an era flooded with both cultural and political change, and as Mills puts it "the time before America lost its individuality".
Mirroring the personal undertones of his movie Beginners (2011) inspired by Mills' unconventional upbringing and his relationship with his father, who came out at gay in his 70s, 20th Century Women pays homage to another family member - his mother.
Dorothea Fields (Annette Bening) is an alluringly complex woman. A self-reliant divorcee in her mid-50s, who smokes menthols because she thinks they’re healthier, and believes in the Depression-era motto that it 'takes a village to raise a child'.
During a time when punk rock is the rage, Jimmy Carter was president, and the feminist movement was in full swing, Dorothea tries her best to understand her son in a world she can't come to grips with.
Knowing that it doesn’t take a man to raise a man, she enlists the assistance of Abbie (Greta Gerwig) a fuchsia-haired punk rocker and aspiring photographer who rents a room in their home – and Julie (Elle Fanning), Jamie’s wise-beyond-her-years best friend and not-so-secret crush.
These women all play a part in shaping Jamie's worldview and aid his compelling coming-of-age tale.
Gerwig and Fanning are both resplendent in their roles — but it is Bening, robbed of a deserved Oscar nomination, who takes centre stage.
Bening beautifully captures the internal devastation of a well-meaning mother who isn't ready to let go of her son and ultimately loses sight of her own worth.
If Mills' mother really was as enthralling as Birkenstock-wearing Dorothea, it is no wonder that he felt the need to share her story.
20th Century Women lacks a central point but between the meandering story lines of parent-child relationships, missed opportunities and irreparable past mistakes, Mills creates that rarity in filmmaking - a movie we need, right now.
“Whatever you imagine your life is going to be like, know your life is not going to be anything like that,” Jamie is told early on in the movie.
A statement that unfortunately seems more apt in today's society than ever before.