With “20th Century Women,” writer-director Mike Mills tells the story of three distinct and interesting women and considers the scope and shape of their lives, while simultaneously locating them within the highly-specific setting suggested by the title.

That stands as a major accomplishment in an industry desperate for movies that dare to consider women as individuals with value beyond the superficial.

That the semi-autobiographical film plays as well as it does within these parameters — that it introduces us to Dorothea (Annette Bening) and Julie (Elle Fanning) and Abbie (Greta Gerwig), the most important figures in the life of Dorothea’s son Jamie (Lucas Jade Zumann) circa the cultural awakenings around 1979, and holds our interest as it unpacks the essence of who they are — demonstrates Mills’ aptitude for spinning a series of seemingly mundane moments into something deeper.

The movie doesn’t have a plot, and it doesn’t really need one. The stars, all superb, say all that needs to be said in their characters’ quiet yearning and desperate search for meaning in a world finally allowing them to find it.