If you're one of those complete-ists who insists on seeing all the Academy Award nominees — Picture, Director, Actor, Actress — before the Oscars ceremony, it's a good bet that Annette Bening will nab a nomination for her turn in 20th Century Women, the ambling, nostalgic, slice-of-life period piece that features some of the richest individual performances and "most real" characters of the 2016 marquee crop. It opens Friday at select theaters.
At large, the film is somewhat plotless, a little vignette-y. Dorothea (Bening) is a heavy smoker and older mom in 1970s Santa Barbara, and she decides she'd like to outsource the parenting of her teenage son Jamie (Lucas Jade Zumann) to a roommate Abbie (Greta Gerwig) and Jamie's friend and crush Julie (Elle Fanning). William (Billy Crudup) is another roommate; he's a handyman who fixes up the big place in lieu of rent. (You can see both Gerwig and Crudup in supporting roles in this year's Jackie, too.)
This family-and-friends commune lifestyle, one senses, is nearing its final act. Everyone's always coming and going. Big group dinners are a thing. The sense of expansive cultural change on the horizon is mirrored by the small changes and precipices that each character finds him/herself upon. Love, loss, liberation: It's all reckoned with by this remarkable crew, which gels in surprising, continually delightful ways under the guidance of Mike Mills (Beginners) and in the shadow of Bening, who lends her wisdom and grace, once again, to a seminal portrayal of the American Mom. See also: American Beauty (1999), and The Kids Are All Right (2010), both of which netted an Oscar nom.