Director: Mike Mills
According to The Telegraph a “secret treasure of the season, though – crafted with tender precision, and built to last”
According to the Guardian, a film that boasts a “rush of gorgeous moments, a standout performance from Annette Bening and profound thoughts on family and identity”
According to the Mrs F8 “a load of bollocks”. And I’m inclined to agree.
Across two hours we get lots of “quirky”, something which seems to be director Mike Mills forte. Annette Bening plays divorcee Dorothea, mother to 15 year old Jamie living in shabby bohemian chic in Santa Barbara in 1979. The house is also home to lodgers Abbie – an art student with love of punk music who is recovering from cervical cancer, and William, a handyman still devoted to the hippy lifestyle. Jamie doesn’t have a girlfriend but 17 year old Julie sneaks into Jamie’s room most nights for sleep and conversation, but not sex. Although a willing participant with other boys she is off limits to Jamie who clearly adores her.
Early attempts are made to portray Jamie as a difficult teenager but he doesn’t even seem mildly exasperating. We are told in passing that Jamie hasn’t really bonded with William, and Dorothea decides to enlist Abbie and Julie to help guide Jamie through his most difficult teenage years, calling on a logic that is otherwise unexplained, and absent of any sign that Jamie isn’t anything other than a rather pleasant and thoughtful young chap. Jamie craves simple relationship with his mother uncomplicated by the cast of misfits and strays his house collects, perplexed at her unwillingness to acknowledge her own loneliness and remoteness. Dorothea blusters on trying to give him what she thinks he needs, but nothing that he actually asks for, and the viewer is given no sense of why she has so little insight.
Mills seeks to create context by mixing of video clips of the time (like Gerald Ford falling down the steps of Air Force One, an excerpt from “Koyaanisqatsi”), with vignettes showing when each character was born and a brief bio on their life up to the time film plus voiceovers from mostly Dorothea including when and how she will die. Knowing to the point of being smug, we got style bereft of much substance.
Strands of plot that seemed to offer hope of richness rarely make it into anything worthwhile. Abbie decides part of Jamie’s development should include an introduction to feminist books. Jamie’s capacity to understand and absorb them – which requires some suspension of disbelief – earns him a beating when he disputes a fellow teen skateboarder’s tale of how many orgasms his proclaimed technique induced in his girlfriend. His mother’s response is to bathe his wounds with mild concern, and the film then just ambles on.
There are some poignant moments. Via Abbie and Julie, Jamie gets an insight into some of the less pleasant aspects of life as a woman – Abbie on tenterhooks awaiting news as to whether she is clear of cervical cancer, Julie’s resignation that half the sex she has being unsatisfactory is the price she must pay for the half that is. But it’s not enough give any sense that the whole two hours has been worthwhile, or that there was really ever a story to be told.
Might appeal to people who enjoyed:
“Beginners” – apparently this film is a diptych to this 2012 film. And yes, I had to look up what “diptych” meant