Beautiful. Not ‘beautiful’ in that it’s pretty or nice to look at, though it is. But beautiful because it managed to package a montage of earnest, real human experiences with meaningful dialogue without coming across as heavy handed.
The screenplay in other hands could have been syrupy, mellow dramatic, unrealistic, preachy, or at the very least inorganic. Mike Mills somehow avoids all of that to deliver a portrait of a family through the individuals that make it up.
Even though the film uses the medium stylistically - pushes in and out of door frames, fast forwarded sequences, rainbow streaks on driving cars, voice overs and mini montages - the world and film are wonderfully immersive. The dolly and doorframe interactions became excessive towards the end, but other than that it all worked.
The shots were composed, vibrant, and intentional. Yet dynamic. The characters that inhabited them were real (though heightened - especially in a lot of the dialogue) and you learn about them throughout. While the dialogue was a bit sophisticated to be real, as a film it’s a better approach than the mumble core alternative. If you’re watching characters that serve a thematic purpose, you may as well write them to be eloquent, sharp, and at times prophetic. Cutting into their polish with ample cracks and you have something that is an accepted reality.
The casting is flawless - each character charismatic but complimentary - their interplay with each other fun, complex, and often intimate or sexy.
I think the theme for the movie is likely what Greta Gerwig says about the noise band near the beginning of the film: essentially they’re just passionate people who are so passionate they must express themselves even though they don’t have mastery of the tools that they’re using. It’s a beautiful metaphor for the human experience. We’re all just here doing our best even though we inherently don’t have the tools to cope with ourselves and the problems the world throws at us.
Tonally, it’d be lovely to make a film like 20th Century Women - light hearted but heartfelt. Comedic but serious. Oscillating between sweet and sad and leaving a bittersweet optimism in the end viewer. Having them realize that hey, things don’t really work out, but that’s the point.
A final interesting story telling choice was the point in the lives when we met each character. They each are existing after some life event (largely a relationship failed) and before they’re fully mended. I understand the film is slightly biographical for Mills, which is why the period makes sense. We get to see these characters in a state of ‘in-between’. Which is what a lot of life feels like.
Loved the cinematography, too.