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Posts Tagged ‘Lucas Jade Zumann’
Richard sits in with Marcia MacMillan to have a look at the big weekend movies, Peter Berg’s ripped-from-the-headlines “Patriot’s Day,” “Live By Night” from director-actor Ben Affleck, the terrible “Monster Trucks” and the sublime “20th Century Women” and “Paterson.”
Watch the whole thing HERE!
Meryl Streep has a body of work that speaks for itself and, as she proved last Sunday night from the stage of the Golden Globes, is unafraid to challenge the status quo. But last week while the world formed opinions about Streep as she mouthed off about Donald Trump—She’s an icon! She’s overrated!—I had my eye on someone in the audience.
During Streep’s speech the camera landed on Annette Bening, who, for my money gives the Grand Dame a run for her money acting wise.
This weekend Bening adds 20th Century Women to her already stellar IMDB resume. As free-spirited single mother Dorothea she is, as writer David Edelstein wrote, irreducible. In other words she’s complex, loving yet stand-offish, warm but steely, a hippie who studies the stock market and Bening brings her to vivid life.
It’s that density of character that sets Bening apart from her peers, Streep included. Warren Beatty, her husband and sometimes director says she has, “talent, beauty, wit, humility and grace,” a combination that makes her “the best actress alive.”
Biased? Likely, but the evidence is on the screen. Bening works sporadically, sometimes taking years between projects or taking small supporting roles in idiosyncratic independent films like Ruby Sparks, but her characters are always compelling.
She became a star playing femme fatale Myra in 1990’s con artist caper The Grifters. Gleefully embracing her character’s deviousness, she stole the movie away from vets John Cusack and Anjelica Huston. Then came intricate portrayals of everything from a muckraking lobbyist in The American President and neurotic real estate broker in American Beauty to Bugsy’s tough-talking Hollywood starlet and In Dreams’ psychic vigilante. Each performances is a polished gem even when the movies aren’t as good as she is.
The last of her Best Actress Oscar nods came with 2010’s The Kids Are Alright. At the center of story are Nic (Bening) and Jules (Julianne Moore), a long time lesbian couple raising their two kids. It’s a happy family until their daughter contacts her biological father Paul (Mark Ruffalo) via the sperm bank.
A scene near the movie’s end displays the complexity of Bening’s work. Nic and Paul sing a Joni Mitchell song at a dinner party. Their wild act is joyful, ridiculous and poignant simultaneously and is a perfect microcosm of Bening’s performance. Bening is unpredictable, sometimes funny, sometimes not, just like real life. It’s her well-drawn character that keeps the basic story afloat with its lived-in, realistic feel.
Less known is Bening’s fine work in The Face of Love, a 2014 film about a widow obsessed with a man who looks exactly like her late husband Tom. Trouble is, she never tells him about his resemblance raising the question, Is she in love with Tom or a memory?
Another question: Is she a selfish conniver, a grief stricken widow or one brick short of a load? The movie allows for interpretation, but regardless of your take, Bening’s performance is so raw and vulnerable it’s difficult to completely condemn her behaviour.
Bening’s name may not always be mentioned in the hushed tones as Streep, but I suspect she doesn’t care for the accolades as much as shattering the clichés of how women are portrayed on film. On that score she is at the top of her field.
The word quirky gets thrown around a lot in reference to character driven indie films. “20th Century Women,” the Mike Mills (the director not the REM guitarist) coming of age story starring Annette Bening and Greta Gerwig, falls under that umbrella, presenting an off beat story of mothers, friends and lovers that luckily never allows it’s idiosyncrasies to become twee.
The film is set during one turbulent summer in 1979 in a creaky old boarding house run by single Santa Barbara mom Dorothea Fields (Annette Bening). Boarders include artsy cancer survivor Abbie (Gerwig) and William (Billy Crudup), a good-looking hippie carpenter with a way with a hammer and women. At the center of the story is Dorothea’s 15-year-old son Jamie (Lucas Jade Zumann), a sensitive boy with an unrequited crush on platonic friend Julie (Elle Fanning).
At the cusp of the eighties Dorothea, a “child of the Depression,” finds herself disconnected from Jamie, unsure if she knows exactly how to raise a teenage boy in a changing world. William and the boy didn’t bond so she turns to Abbie and Julie for help. “You get to see him out in the world as a person,” Dorothea saus to Abbie. “I never will.”
Based on Mills’s teenage years, “20th Century Women” is a coming-of-age filtered through the lens of a very specific era. The music of The Talking Heads fills the soundtrack, Abbie’e punk style includes a shock of purple hair and loose-limbed dancing while Julie embraces the feminist principles of the day. In this swirl of art, change and sexuality Jamie enters manhood with a trio of twentieth century women as his cobbled-together family.
It’s the story of a teenage boy but it is just as much a study of the women in his life, each of whom is unique, interesting and arrive in the film fully formed. No mother or girlfriend figureheads here.
Leading the charge is Bening who heads the ensemble with supreme ease, playing Dorothea as an eccentric but warm presence, a woman grappling with change and the idea her son is growing up too fast.
Gerwig borders on typecasting, taking on the role of the gloomy, sexualized Abbie. It’s a character that seems to fit comfortably in her wheelhouse and then, with no noticeable effort she reminds us why her delicate portrayals of interesting people strike such a chord in movie after movie.
Fanning, the third corner of this triangle, mixes sweetness and ferocity, brewing up a potent cocktail of teenage rebellion.
Structurally the film suffers from the odd hiccup but tremendous performances that feels airy and grounded at the same time bring humanity and empathy to a story that is specific in its time and place but universal in its scope.