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Annette Bening, the 20th Century Woman

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PostPosted: Thu Dec 15, 2016 5:24 pm    Post subject: Annette Bening, the 20th Century Woman Reply with quote

‘20th Century Women’ Star Annette Bening on Cinema After the Election: Everything Now ‘Has an Urgency’
20th Century Women is more than a coming-of-age story set in Carter-era California. As Bening says, it’s a powerful reminder of our need for strong women over these next four years.
BY Kevin Fallon

While Annette Bening and I are talking in a Manhattan hotel room a few weeks after the election, I mention to her how the internet’s minions are dream-casting her as Hillary Clinton in a biopic.

She immediately sets her tea down, her eyebrows lifting in surprise and her whole body kind of just… sparking, the way Annette Bening seems to ignite when she gets excited—that crackling energy we love watching onscreen. This time, it’s happening in real life.

“I haven’t heard that! Wow,” she exclaims, the timbre of her voice mellowing into that familiar purr that has become so, well, Annette Bening. “What a story that will be.” A Hillary Clinton biopic? Her head nods the punctuation after each syllable: “What. A. Story. Wow.”

We’re meeting to talk about her role in 20th Century Women, another masterful performance from the four-time Oscar-nominated actress. Bening’s utter Bening-ness is more in focus than ever because of the way the film utilizes the star’s uniqueness and energy better than we’ve seen yet.

Her Dorothea in 20th Century Women is a single mother in Carter-era California fretting about the proper way to raise her son into a suitable man.

That the essence of Dorothea is hard to nail down is partly because of how authentically complex she is. Part of it, too, is because of how familiar she is. She’s the woman we all know, played by an actress who has, over the years, turned juggling attributes such as wise, quizzical, strong, brittle, assured, and anxious into an art form. An art form that’s never been on more masterful display than it is here.

A careful, lovingly constructed portrait of three women of three different ages with unique, cliché-less experiences dictated by a very specific time, the film, written and directed by Mike Mills, isn’t just a middle finger to an industry resistant to complex, realistic portrayals of female characters. It’s a call to arms to a country that needs to be reminded how important women like the ones the film depicts are going to be over the next four years.


To that regard, it’s near impossible to divorce a viewing of the film from the sociopolitical climate in which it is being released, a time when the first female presidential candidate, a woman who is around the same age Dorothea would be, lost her bid, drowned in a flood of misogynistic discourse and stifled opportunity.

“For me, everything I’m seeing now has an urgency,” Bening says, referring to 20th Century Women’s timeliness. “Like, ‘Oh.’

“We’re also talking in the film about Jimmy Carter and that famous speech he made,” she says. (A pivotal moment in the film is soundtracked by Carter delivering his “Crisis of Confidence” speech.)

“To have that moment when a president who was a peanut farmer, compared to our soon-to-be president, who was arguing against materialism and talking about the collective and talking about taking care of our own and talking about energy and energy issues,” she says. “I definitely see that in a different context. Not just our film, but every film.”

She mentions the way Moonlight tackles homophobia, poverty, and xenophobia. She mentions artists and journalists, and anyone who feels a bigger responsibility. She straightens herself on the couch, puts down the tea she’s been sipping, and leans in closely.

“As moviemakers, we have a responsibility to reflect back our culture, you know, what’s going on in our hearts,” she says. “Because that’s the biggest thing we can do. So that for me has a significance I’m really proud of in the film, and I hope people will see it in that context.”

Her full body nearly goes into italics as she stresses the word urgency again. She’s already starting to feel it, too, among people making theatre, making movies, writing books, and journalists: “How can we use what we do to affect this new reality that we’re living in that I can say for myself I certainly never even imagined that this could be the reality we’re living in?
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