Coming-of-age story celebrates the end of the 1970s

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In “20th Century Women,” writer-director Mike Mills creates a fluid visual motif by employing a wealth of mixed media, including stock photos, film clips, passages from literature and other visual tricks.

His camera is always pushing in and out of frames, title cards and montages drive the story along and “20th Century Women” winds up looking like the kind of movie Wes Anderson would make if he stopped playing with his dollhouse. It also helps distract from the fact that film’s narrative floats so freely it nearly drifts away.

Lucas Jade Zumann plays Jamie, a 15-year-old being raised by his mother, Dorothea (Annette Bening), a free spirit so flighty that after a firefighter puts out the flames that engulf her car she invites him over for dinner.

He also lives with Abbie (Greta Gerwig), a violet-haired punk rocker who rents a room in their home, and he has a hard crush on Julie (Elle Fanning), who openly sleeps around, but won’t sleep with him. (She’s too close to him, she argues, a death sentence for a 15-year-old.)

These women all play a role in shaping Jamie’s worldview, and “20th Century Women” is a coming of age story and the portrait of an era. It celebrates Southern California at the end of the 1970s when the 1980s were about to come along and take the fun out of everything.

The cast — which also includes Billy Crudup as a handyman who works around the house — shines, even when the material around them kind of casually shrugs its shoulders. It’s a credit to Mills that he makes it feel like he’s making the Earth move even when he’s just capturing a snapshot in time.

agraham@detroitnews.com

(313) 222-2284

@grahamorama

‘20th Century Women’

GRADE: B

Rated R: for sexual material, language, some nudity and brief drug use

Running time: 118 minutes

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