Hammerle on … ’20th Century Women,’ Tribute to Mary Tyler Moore, John Hurt and Barbara Hale

Keywords Features / Opinion

bob hammerle movie reviews“20th Century Women”

“20th Century Women,” written and directed by Mike Mills, focuses on three women as they struggle with the complexities of life. Taking place in Santa Barbara, California, in 1979, the unfortunate fact is that the movie’s weakness overshadows its strengths.

hammerle-rating-20th.gifLet’s begin with the accomplished Annette Bening, here playing Dorothea, a divorced mother in her mid-50s who is raising a confused 15-year-old son, Jamie (Lucas Jade Zumann). To help defray monthly expenses, she has three loveably perplexed boarders living in her home.

While Dorothea turns to her tenants for assistance in giving her son some direction, that proves difficult when all three don’t know where they are heading with their own lives. Greta Gerwig impersonates herself playing Abbie, a young woman battling cervical cancer. She has no idea what her future holds, and her one skill is to dance wildly regardless of the location.

Elle Fanning appears as Julie, a woman in need of psychotherapy even though her mother is a psychotherapist. Though there is no sex involved, she regularly sneaks up to Jamie’s bedroom in the name of friendship. Unfortunately, Jamie has a hard time accepting the fact that sex is off limits.

Ironically, one of the better performances comes from the third tenant played by Billy Crudup. Just off his engaging performance as a journalist in “Jackie,” he combines a great sense of humor with various blue-collar skills that make him quite handy in helping to repair the dilapidated home of Dorothea. Given the fact that he previously spent time in a commune, he is totally at home with this group of women.

The film has an endearing quality that resulted in producing frequent laughter in the viewing audience. However, while it may have been the result of me being forced to wear hearing aids, much of the dialogue was reduced to low-level whispering by the actors. It reached the point that I really wished that this was one of those English films that contained subtitles.

Regardless, Mills clearly failed to achieve what he conquered in his previous film, “Beginners” (2010). There, Christopher Plummer exuded immense charm as an aging man admitting for the first time that he was gay. In “20th Century Women,” none of the actors, including Bening, reached that bohemian level, as they usually retired to bed more dazed and confused than when they woke up.

Tribute to Mary Tyler Moore, John Hurt and Barbara Hale

While the Grim Reaper await us all, it was heartbreaking to wave goodbye to Mary Tyler Moore, John Hurt and Barbara Hale. For us getting closer to knocking on heaven’s door, these three legends jumped from the screen into our hearts.

Moore, who died at 80, has already been justifiably praised. It all began with her playing Laura, Dick Van Dyke’s wife in the comedy series running from 1961 through 1966. I graduated from high school in 1965, and I never missed a show.

Though Van Dyke, Carl Reiner, Morey Amsterdam and Rose Marie were comic geniuses, Moore inspired women in multiple ways, not the least of which was daring to wear capri pants and flat shoes on television. And for those who are saying “So what?”, professional women today have only recently embraced her styles.

But no one will forget her magnificent series simply called “Mary Tyler Moore,” running from 1970 to 1977. She was a single woman in her 30s who sought a professional career without lamenting the fact that she was single. And while Ed Asner, Ted Knight and Gavin MacLeod were central to the series’ success, magnificent actresses like Valerie Harper, Cloris Leachman, Betty White and Georgia Engel formed a female cast that continues to make history.

I didn’t miss an episode, and it was always as funny as it was charming.

John Hurt died at the age of 77. He was a British actor who made significant contributions in film while always playing the second banana. He was fabulous in “The Elephant Man” (1980), and he memorably played the young man who died after the alien leaped from his chest in Ridley Scott’s movie of the same name (1979). He was brilliant in two of my favorite films, “A Man for All Seasons” (1966), where his character betrayed Sir Thomas Moore, and “V for Vendetta” (2005) where he played a Hitler-type dictator in the future.

While he made a great contribution to the Harry Potter movies as Mr. Ollivander, you will still see him on the screen today in “Jackie,” playing a priest who tried to console Mrs. Kennedy after the assassination of her husband. John Hurt will be missed.

Finally, I must pay a tribute to Barbara Hale, who died at the age of 94. As the devoted, wise assistant of Perry Mason in the series running from 1957 to 1966, she defined the role of a criminal defense attorney’s secretary. Her name was Della Street, and she played a critical role in the trial success of Raymond Burr’s Perry Mason. She was a lot of things, beautiful being one of them, and I loved that short, dark hair.

Goodbye to all of you. To quote Bob Hope, “Thanks for the memories.”•


Robert Hammerle practices criminal law in Indianapolis at Pence Hensel LLC as of counsel. When he is not in the courtroom or the office, Bob can likely be found at one of his favorite movie theaters. To read more of his reviews, visit www.bigmouthbobs.com. The opinions expressed are those of the author.

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