First Hit: I liked it overall and some scenes are wonderfully funny, but it didn’t impress or stay with me afterwards.
There was something missing in this film and I’m not sure what it was. As I previously said, I liked many of the scenes individually but together as a story it just missed the target.
The basic story is that a single mother Dorothea (Annette Bening), in her late 40’s early 50’s, is raising her fifteen-year-old son, Jamie (Lucas Jade Zumann), in Santa Barbara in the late 1970’s. She lives in a large home with people who rent rooms; Abbie (Greta Gerwig) and William (Billy Crudup). Abbie, who’s in her early 20s, has come to Santa Barbara from New York after learning she had cervical cancer to be an artist. William is slightly younger than Dorothea is a handy man with cars and is fixing up Dorothea’s huge rundown house. Dorothea is stressing about her son and wants him to be a smart caring whole man who navigates the restlessness of the ever-changing world. There are peace protests, punk music is flourishing, and there is also the feminist movement.
Julie (Elle Fanning), is a neighbor girl whose mother is a child psychologist and requires Julie to sit in her youth therapy groups. She often spends the night with Jamie but only to talk and rest. She sneaks in by climbing the scaffolding surrounding the house. She comes back into the house, through the front door, in the morning and has breakfast with the rest of the household.
Always worrying, somewhat defensiveness, and not being forthcoming about her past is the byword of Dorothea’s character. Abbie is about finding peace with her life. She wants to express and settle down. William lives easily and as the dialogue stated, women come to him and he gets bored with them easily. Julie is exploring her freedom from her mother through sexual behavior and depressive based rebellion. Jamie is simply growing up and although he’s going out and experiencing new things, his mother seems to think that he needs more help.
Bening is very good, however I didn’t necessarily like her character much. There was a distant neediness to her that didn’t really work for me. Fanning was fantastic. She does the part woman/part girl nervousness with amazement. Watch her hands and feet move as when she’s nervous – wonderful subtle acting. Zumann was very good as the boy learning to become a man. Scenes where he becomes sullen and frustrated are excellent. Gerwig is wonderful. Her energy and engagement with the role and the other characters was perfect. Crudup was strong as handyman William. His soft kindness towards the women in the house and others was delightful. Mike Mills wrote an excellent script, however overall the film felt too scene based which may have been through his direction.
Overall: Although I enjoyed many of the scenes, the overall film felt a little disjointed and scene based.