Simple. Real. Familiar. Boyhood is Richard Linklater’s ode to childhood and everyday life.
Boyhood was filmed over 39 days – an impressive feat – even more impressive given the fact that it was filmed over the course of 12 years. The film isn’t outlandish, but manages to keep a captivating play of characters – a 12 year character study. We meet Mason Jr (Ellar Coltrane) when he’s six years old. We laugh, cry, learn, love and lose with him. We essentially grow up with Mason – and it’s a truly remarkable thing to experience.
The film isn’t a spectacle, it’s a conversation. Like my favourite Linklater films (the “Before” Trilogy), the conversation here is engaging and real, the moments are those that we’ve all had (including the car ride “let’s see who can be quiet the longest” game). Boyhood addresses the inevitable – we all grow up – and we all have moments that shape the person we become.
Mason Jr’s journey over 12-years is captured on screen for us. Mason Jr goes from round faced 6-year old – to awkward and lanky pre-teen – to goatee’d college freshman within almost 3 hours (kids…they grow up so fast). Linklater doesn’t limit our encounters with Mason and his family to typical milestones. We still see birthdays, first jobs, first loves, graduations, and an eventual departure for college – but these moments, as in real life, are interspersed in the everyday moments of getting into trouble at school, fighting with parents, hanging out with friends and working a mundane job.
While Mason might be the focus of the film, he grows, surprisingly, to become the least interesting character in the film. While in his younger years he’s a quiet rebel who asks hilarious questions and engages with his parents and siblings in truly genuine fashion. As he enters his teenage years he becomes a little boring, quite anti-social, pessimistic and little bit self-entitled – which, we may all argue, is the actual definition of a teenager. It’s hard to stay connected with Mason as he ages – but maybe that’s the point.
Mason Jr’s family grows with him. His older sister Samantha (played by Lorelei Linklater) is a bundle of sassy energy as a kid, who somehow fades into a background character as she grows up. It’s unfortunate that we don’t see more of her. Mason Jr’s parents also do their fair share of growing up. Mason’s mom, Olivia, played by Patricia Arquette struggles with broken marriages, school, and single-parenting – ever harried and responsible. She does a fine job with this character, and you can’t help but empathize with her as she grows her resolve over 12 years. Ethan Hawke is absolutely wonderful as Mason Sr – who shows that in some way – sometimes parenthood allows the parents grow as well. Ethan Hawke is natural and so sincere in his characterization.
Mason Sr grows – blossoms really – from cool guy part-time father (who actually wants to be there for his kids), to a responsible, mini-van driving husband. It’s a subtle transformation – and one that seems a little bittersweet, as Mason Sr sells his prized GTO, praises the marvels of the minivan, grows a moustache, and declares to Mason Jr, “When you get older you can save up and buy a car of your own, be cool like I used to be.”
The film has been heaped with overwhelming praise and you can expect accolades, nominations and even some wins this coming awards season. It has a nearly perfect rating on Rotten Tomatoes, and a 100% score on Metacritic. It’s rare to hear a bad review for this film – and those that criticize it have found themselves in lonely company. While I really enjoyed the film and its “reality”, the unanimous praise seems to encompass more of its filming concept, than its actual execution. The transitions between scenes (or years) can be clumsy, and the running time is long (at 2 hours and 44 minutes, it’s about 30 minutes too long) – with some scenes that seeming like boring filler with no real connection to the man that Mason becomes.
Boyhood is worth a watch, if only to experience the thrill of growing up, or in my case, to re-live parts of growing up. The film, its soundtrack, the technology and fashions are all social signifiers of the past 12 years – almost a cultural scrapbook as told through the life of Mason.
Watching Mason grow up before our very eyes is a joy. The film has its peaks and valleys, but so does life. Soulful and true – it’s an unconventional film about the conventional – a visionary cinematic experiment about the collection of moments that happen every day.
Mason Sr: “What’s the point? I sure as shit don’t know… we’re all just winging it.”