“The writing of all three of the women … none of them have any cliches in them,” said Annette Bening of the characters in her new film “20th Century Women” (watch above). She discussed the film with press and industry at the New York Film Festival on October 7. It has its world premiere at the fest on October 8 in advance of its theatrical release at Christmas.
Bening plays Dorothea Fields, a single mother trying to raise her teenage son Jamie (Lucas Jade Zumann) in 1979 Santa Barbara. To do so, she enlists the help of two women — her Bohemian tenant Abbie (Greta Gerwig) and Jamie’s friend Julie (Elle Fanning) — whom Dorothea hopes will give her son guidance and a broader perspective on life.
“These women’s bodies and souls and psyches start with me in memory,” said writer-director Mike Mills. “The Dorothea character is a lot of my mom, so it comes from trying to make a portrait of her and remember her correctly.” Understanding his limitations as a man writing female characters, he made an effort “to base everything on real women … I’m a straight, white, cisgender male guy trying to write about women, and I can only go so far. I’m on the outside looking in, so I was trying to make those limitations of my perspective a part of the story.”
Fanning explained what she specifically found interesting about her character, who has a complex, conflicted relationship with Jamie. “She lies a lot,” Fanning explains. “She has a very studious side that she shows to her parents, but then also this whole other side to her — she’s promiscuous with a lot of boys — but I think she thrives on keeping those things secret. Those secrets keep her going.”
Watch more from the “20th Century Women” Q&A below:
Annette Bening on whether her own experience as a mother influenced her performance: “That’s where the fun comes, is being able to leap out of your own identity and the way you present yourself and the context in which you were raised.”
Lucas Jade Zumann on researching life in 1979: “[Mike Mills] sent me this book, ‘The Cultural Dictionary of Punk.'”
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