Despite not being a perfect movie, Boyhood delivers one of the most interesting cinematic experiences of the year. Filmed over twelve years, it beautifully highlights the growing pains of childhood but it is also a harrowing reminder how quickly time passes by.
Boyhood follows the life of Mason Jr. (Ellar Coltrane) from age six to eighteen. His parents Mason Sr. (Ethan Hawke) and Olivia (Patricia Arquette) are divorced. He lives with his mother and sister Samantha (Lorelai Linklater) while his dad shows up every now and then. In search of a better life out there, Olivia uproots the family from their hometown across Texas. Mason Sr. Isn’t exactly a deadbeat dad as he constantly shows up in their lives while trying to put his own life together after a series of aimless jobs and music gigs. Meanwhile Olivia ventures into academia in order to provide a more stable life for her kids.
Over the twelve years, all the characters evolve, mostly from the choices of the parents. Despite the struggles, Mason Jr. Continues to move forward as he moves through an intimate journey from childhood through adolescence. Though he might have dealt with a few more alcoholic parents than others.
Boyhood is pretty much a twelve year side project of director Richard Linklater, who first started working on this feature back in 2002. Over the twelve years, he would annually reassemble his cast and crew to write and film a new chapter in Mason’s life. While not perfectly executed, the final product does become one of the most memorable cinematic experiences that I have ever gone through. Sure, the whole twelve year filming process might seem a little gimmicky, but it is quite the accomplishment too. It’s such a rare opportunity to watch the maturation of fictional characters, the actors and the filmmaker himself all encapsulated in one single film project.
The biggest challenge is ensuring that these bits and pieces filmed over twelve years fit together as a narrative. While the overall effect works, the film does feel choppy at times and it can be quite jarring for the casual filmgoer. The movie mainly focuses on the main turning points of Mason Jr.’s life and we end up with an anthology of mini-episodes throughout the three hour running time of the movie. There are new themes in each episode but there are interconnected threads that tie everything along at the same time. Some chapters jump ahead in time a bit more than others which causes the shifts to feel a bit more abrupt. Characters come and go, just like in real life but some changes seem a little overly dramatic. All in all, Linklater seemed to have achieved what he set out to do. He created a vibrant portrayal of youth while painting it with a rich story and a roster of interesting characters.
Ellar Coltrane is truly the star of the movie as Mason Jr. and he is the main reason why this film is such an engrossing project because not only do we see him grow up (albeit as a fictional character) but we also witness the changes of this young acting talent. It was also quite interesting to see the more recognizable actors like Ethan Hawke and Patricia Arquette take part in their twelve year roles and evolve along with him.
The strong supporting cast definitely adds to the gripping movie experience. Patricia Arquette beautifully portrayed a struggling single parent whose constant struggle to find happiness, fulfilment and love. Despite the great performance, I was a little disappointed that there wasn’t much resolve to her character after a series of poor romantic choices. It seems like Linklater gave the meatier role to Ethan Hawke as Mason Sr. Like Arquette, Hawke delivers a solid performance but his character arc is a bit more intriguing. Due to his lifestyle choices, he is somewhat like a juxtaposition to Mason Jr.’s journey. The film tackles the idea of what it takes for a boy to turn into a man and it seems like the elder Mason discovered that a lot later down the road compared to our main protagonist, which made for interesting father-son discussion moments throughout the film and especially in the final act. Lorelei Linklater plays Samantha, the older sister to Mason Jr. While she can potentially be highlighting what girlhood would be, it seemed like the focus was taken out of her character as time went on. She received less and less screentime as the movie goes on, which makes it harder to track her character’s maturation process but at least it provides a much appreciated female perspective of maturing through childhood.
It is truly a thought-provoking movie. It makes us think about what is “normal”. How do we identify ourselves in society? Do we need a functioning domestic arrangement (man, wife and children) to create perfectly functioning individuals in society? Do we change over time? Does free will exist or are our choices molded by the things around us? Do we seize the moment or let the moment seize us? We all might have different answers but it is something to consider.
Viewers, regardless of age, gender or nationality should be able to relate to Mason Jr.’s struggles as a youth trying to discover their own identity and interests while confined in our insecurities and societal expectations. Perhaps that’s what makes this movie so memorable is because we can all pull up some part of our childhood and watch it happen on screen.
While we got to see relationships grow between individuals in the movie, we also saw our relationship with time. It’s constantly flowing and we are all headed in the same journey towards an end point. After watching the film, it is amazing to see how everything is fleeting. Moments keep happening and simply pass by and we’re left wondering where did the time go?