Dorothea Draper – ★★★½
Dorothea (Annette Bening) is the landlady to a bunch of free spirits in California circa 1979 one of whom happens to be her son Jamie (Lucas Jade Zumann). She is finding it hard to get through to said son and enlists the help of lodger Abbie (Greta Gerwig) and Julie (Elle Fanning), the girl who Jamie yearns for, in an attempt to mould him into a modern man. Billy Crudup as William rounds out the ensemble cast as a clichéd handy man type.
Dorothea is separated from her husband and is in the process of renovating her house with the help of William. Abbie is a photography enthusiast coping with cancer and Julie is a flake taking advantage of Jamie’s infatuation. When Dorothea enlists their help Abbie embraces it teaching Jamie how to pick up girls and teaching him about sex and all the cool music. Julie on the other hand spends most of her time explaining why they can’t go out, and, her previous sexual disasters.
Dorothea likes to see herself as some free minded socialite throwing dinner parties and wearing Birkenstock shoes. Yet when she is confronted with the reality of feminism, punk and free love she retreats to her safe square space. Brought up during the depression and in love with Casablanca and cigarettes, the most interesting parts of her character are seeing her wrestle with these two ideals.
Bening is outstanding, making you never quite sure where your emotions lie towards her. Gerwig is fantastic in what might be her best role to date, a subdued thoughtful performance that explodes with energy at all the crucial points. Fanning’s performance recalls too much of The Neon Demon which is not a good thing. Zumann is excellent at conveying the mess of teenage life trying to rebel against everything while inevitably slotting into one of the predetermined tribes.
While set during the end of the 70’s, the film is awash with collages of different time periods from each character’s past. It attempts to make us realise the massive upheavals that have occurred in the USA over the past fifty years, doubting our ability to see this for ourselves. The use of characters narrating their own timelines in flash-forwards is a cheap way to instill more emotion into the piece and the framing harks to something more akin to a Wes Anderson movie.
Great performances make the film a must-see, but the film would have been better served if it had left the gimmicks on the cutting room floor.
Opens Friday the 10th of February