The smug, obnoxious fawning of the heterosexual white male who latches onto feminism, whether earnestly or not, bears out mixed results in Mike Mills' 20th Century Women. He's hardly any less twee nor near-sighted as an auteur than he was six years ago in his homage to his father, Beginners, but with that earnest adoration informing every frame of his new work, and with a maturity that grows as his protagonists commensurately shrink, he once again gets away with it. 20th Century Women is fine with breaking no moulds, pushing no envelopes, relating its every motion back to Mills' narcissism, and I guess we have to be fine with that too if we're to appreciate all of the good things that this film has to offer. Characters defined by shallow motifs and platitudes are rarely satisfying, though it's thus that one might feel in rare territory here - this is the kind of material in which actors relish, and so they do. A good actor will embody what's in the script, though may neglect to invent further; a great actor will figure to do both, and Annette Bening has simply never been as great before as she is in 20th Century Women. Mills' film is an exercise in understanding this woman, a fictionalized version of his mother, and is thereby in service of Bening and her role; yet this role is always in service of advancing our understanding of Mills himself, and he takes the regrettable route of turning a potential feminist statement into a man's statement about feminism in the enlightened man. Besides this particularly ugly trait, this is in fact a rare film in several other regards, most notably its palpably accurate, unpretentious recreation of a recent past, and its invocation of a sense of nostalgic trepidation in that this past depicts a country on the precipice of horrible, historical change.